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exploring how the world works and why it works that way …

Archive for September 2014

When It’s Time to Grow Up

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From one of my senior students …


All around town, the preparations begin.

Making our houses seem livable means hours of throwing out the mountains of trash that have accumulated, sweeping filthy floors, and cleaning rooms with care, tucking contraband out of sight.

We must face the sinks full of dishes growing strange-colored, spongy mold. A toilet brush and some bleach make no impact on the neglected bathrooms we must deal with. My roommate spends a few hours sifting through the layers of flotsam and jetsam that obscure his bedroom floor. He comes out red-faced, sweating and swearing.

We are all getting ready.

The parents are coming.

Yes, that charming yearly event where our loved ones are invited to come visit and see how we live. As a freshman, it was exciting to show your parents around campus and nice to get a break from eating at the dining hall. As a senior, it’s a little different…

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Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

September 26, 2014 at 5:10 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

I read books because I need to know … so much more than I do now

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If you’re a reader, you probably have a list of “fave” books. Or of books you found “influential.” Or of books you liked because each told “a good story.” Or maybe because the books were filled with vampires and such.

I’m surrounded by book listers. I lurk on a listserv of really bright people, and one of the topics du jour is “what’s your book list.” (Thanks to them, I’ve picked up several to add to my own list.)

Jim Booth, one of my fellow co-founders of Scholars & Rogues, compiles a list of books each year and reviews them here. (He’s done more than 50 reviews this year alone.) A faculty colleague has from time to time posted outside his office a list of “books I spent time with this summer.”

I never thought much about book lists.

Then the Time of My Great Disenchantment with Mega-Corporate-Run Journalism began to descend on me about seven years ago. I realized that the grist of daily journalism no longer dealt at length or in depth with the gnawing questions I need answered:

How does the world work? Why does it work that way? What are the consequences of the answers to the first two questions?
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Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

September 22, 2014 at 4:28 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

The press isn’t providing what the public desperately needs — news that matters

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The daily print journalism I know and love is breathing its last gasps. The craft I practiced for 20 years, and have taught for another 20 years, is limping toward the grave. The newsroom values I have believed in for close to half a century face burial under a morass of corporate arrogance, a flawed business model, and a digital “content” that caters to our shallowest instincts instead of lifting us toward wisdom.

I don’t read as much news as I used to in the nation’s dailies anymore — either in print or online. Nor do I get much authentic news I need from local and cable TV. That’s not the same as saying I don’t get much news — as defined by the bastardized news judgments of managers of dailies and TV — from those sources. Surveys show we get something passing as “news” from those media.

But do we get the news — or sufficient explanation or interpretation of issues and events — we sorely need? Remember, much of what we receive via media, especially mainstream media, is secondhand. We need far more credible news about events we cannot or do not experience firsthand. “Our experiences are shaped by ready-made interpretations,” wrote sociologist C. Wright Mills in the ’50s. (See his “second-hand world” warning.) So we depend on journalism to convey events and issues to us secondhand. But we need clearer, more cogent interpretations than the press provides these days.
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Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

September 15, 2014 at 8:34 am

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My lot in life: teaching sophomores how to report and write

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Like Mom’s admonition to ‘eat your spinach,’ my sophomores should dine on basics.
So this week I will teach them how to write a useful sentence.

A car hit a pickup today at Smith and Wesson streets, injuring both drivers.

I will tell these tablet-toting, smartphone-lugging students that this is perhaps the most efficient sentence structure in journalism.

I will tell them this: “Car hit pickup” tells what happened. “Today” is an adverb telling when it happened. “At Smith and Wesson streets” (and NOT “Smith and Wesson Streets”) is a prepositional phrase telling where it happened. “Injuring both drivers” is a verbal phrase explaining to whom “car hit pickup” happened and the consequence. Yep – action and consequence, all in one sentence.

Then I will conduct a mock press conference in which I play the roles of police accident investigator, hospital spokeswoman, and witnesses. (Incidentally, I get killed in the accident, bringing great joy to my sophomores past and present.)

I will do this repeatedly for the semester. Mock press conferences. Subject-Verb-Object Comma Verbal Phrase. Over and over.

And you’re thinking: Yo, Doc. It’s the digital age. What’s with the horse-and-buggy approach to writing news?
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Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

September 15, 2014 at 8:31 am

Posted in Uncategorized