2016: What a year

oi-dawn2

Dawn on Orcas Island brings a magnificent view of Mount Baker.

Three weeks from today, the nation will inaugurate a new president — not the one I wanted, not the one everyone expected, but the bloviating mess known as Donald J. Trump.

I shudder to think what the next four years will be like under this man who continues to defy every social and political convention while trampling on the bounds of common decency. Especially so after the model of dignity, grace and intelligence that we’ve seen exhibited by Barack Obama and his equally impressive wife, Michelle, a power in her own right.

It’s still beyond belief that a man so ignorant (and proud of it), so misogynistic (and proud of it), so narcissistic (and proud of it) has been elected to the nation’s highest office. Yet there’s no disputing that Trump’s election was the story of the year in 2016.

But I’m not going to dwell on him. I’ve got my own agenda today — and that’s taking a look back at the year that was. For all the sadness we felt seeing so many entertainers and other public figures pass from the scene — David Bowie, Prince, Maurice White, Elie Wiesel, Garry Shandling, George Michael, Carrie Fisher, et al — there was a lot of other stuff going on in the Rede household.

After all, this is the year I traveled a new path, away from the newsroom where I had worked for the past 30 years. This was the year I caught a glimpse of what retirement might be like, only to settle into a new work routine in the fall.

Here’s a quick take:

***

First grandchild: We welcomed a charming little girl into our lives in late July. Little Emalyn May Rede, the daughter of our youngest son, Jordan, and his wife, Jamie, has been nothing but a source of pride and joy.

Lori and I were privileged to be the first ones to see and hold Emalyn, other than her parents, when she was just hours old. In the months since, she’s already transformed from helpless infant to smiling, healthy baby, seemingly delighted to be part of the action.

A new job (actually, two): Just as my severance from The Oregonian/OregonLive was running out in mid-September, along came two opportunities to return to the workforce.

Portland State University hired me to teach in the Department of Communications. I got started with a Media Ethics class that set me on a course I’ve always wanted to explore — that of a classroom teacher.

At the same time, I landed a part-time job as communications coordinator with the nonprofit Portland Workforce Alliance, an organization that partners with local employers and schools to expand career and technical education opportunities for metro-area high school students.

In January, I will add a third leg to this stool as an adjunct instructor at Washington State University Vancouver. I loved being a journalist, but I also feel fortunate to have these new employment opportunities.

The big noventa: My dad turned 90 years old in March, so all three of us kids and our extended families gathered in a San Diego suburb to celebrate nine decades of good living.

My dad and stepmom drove in from New Mexico. Lori and I flew in from Portland. My younger sister Cathy flew down from Alaska. My older sister Rosemary, with help from her daughter and son-in-law, hosted the party near Oceanside.

whole damn family

Thanks to a selfie stick, four generations of Redes gather around Dad (in black hat) in honor of his 90th birthday.

Catarino Allala Rede is the only sibling left from a family of seven brothers and two sisters. It was great to see my dad basking in the love and admiration of his children, grandchildren and great-children. For a man who did manual labor all his life and whose formal education stopped at the eighth grade before he went back later in life to get a G.E.D., he’s done pretty damn well.

A baseball road trip: In May, I made a whirlwind trip that allowed me to see four Major League Baseball games in three cities in five days. I flew into Pittsburgh, then drove to Cleveland and on to Cincinnati.

In all, I covered about 400 miles from western Pennsylvania to Ohio, traveling the length of the Buckeye State through gently rolling landscapes. With Lori’s blessing, I stayed in three airbnb rentals and took the opportunity to see new sights, experience unfamiliar places, and visit with new and old friends in Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.

Cool concerts: There were only three this year involving pop artists, but each was satisfying in its own right.

Got to see Jackson Browne at Edgefield in August and he was outstanding. A month earlier, I saw the Dixie Chicks at a Clark County amphitheater just north of Portland and they were exceptional. Their July concert came at a time when I was feeling down, given a spasm of fatal shootings of both civilians and cops in three states.

In November, I saw Liz Longley, a favorite singer-songwriter, for the second time in 18 months, this time in the intimate space of the Alberta Rose Theater.

Excellent books: All that free time I had in the first few months of the year enabled me to dive into the world of literature. Although I slowed down considerably after going back to work, I still managed to plow through 15 books.

They ran the gamut — everything from a young reader books about a transgender youth (“George” by Alex Gino) and a deaf baseball player (“The William Hoy Story” by Nancy Churnin) to a gritty collection of stories about the Motor City (“Detroit” by Charlie LeDuff) to a rape survivor’s memoir (“Lucky” by Alice Sebold) to a sweeping novel about race, culture and class in Nigeria and the United States (“Americanah” by Chimananda Ngozi Adichie.

There was lots more by the likes of John Updike, Steig Larsson, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Lauren Groff, Celeste Ng, Anne Hillerman and Robert Goodlick. You’ll find a synopsis of each one here: Books & Literature.

PIFF: Early in the year, I joined the ranks of volunteers at the 39th annual Portland International Film Festival. In exchange for helping to greet patrons, take tickets, etc., I got to see six movies for free at three theaters during the month of February.

It was a lot of fun and I’d like to do it again, but not this year. Too much going on with my three part-time jobs to even consider it.

Urban hikes: Another luxury during the first half of the year was exploring my own city with the help of a great guidebook, “Portland Hill Walks” by Laura O. Foster.

I made a routine of selecting a route that took me into mostly unfamiliar neighborhoods, where I learned a lot about the city’s history, geography and demographics. Hard to say which were my favorites, but I do recall the pleasant surprise of discovering Marshall Park in Southwest Portland and getting thoroughly soaked when I hiked through the jewel that is Washington Park.

Island getaways: We made it up to our cabin on Orcas Island three times. Each time is like opening a valve and releasing the stress that comes with living in a city of 632,000 people and an urban area of 2.4 million. Compare that to maybe 2,000 folks total on Orcas.

We’re blessed to have a place where we can hike and kayak, read, play board games, feed the birds and watch old movies — all in a beautiful place that offers Solitude with a capital S.

This year, we enjoyed a parade and community potluck on the Fourth of July weekend and hosted our longtime friends, Bob and Deborah Ehlers. We did our best to make their three-night stay a memorable one, with excursions to Doe Bay, Eagle Lake and Mount Constitution.

Pets: We lost our beloved Otto in July, shortly after our final trip to the island and just a week before Emalyn was born. He was a Jack Russell Terrier, 11 years old, blessed with a sweet disposition, and loved by all who knew him. Otto was especially close to Lori and had earned the status of “The Fourth Child.” Fittingly, he died of an an enlarged heart.

Before Otto died, he schooled little Charlotte, our Terrier-Pug-Chihuahua mix, in the ways of the world. She misses him, for sure, but she has blossomed as the sole focus of our canine attention. Charlotte and I survived a run-in with two pit bulls at a dog park, but she’s healed completely and is becoming more social with other dogs and humans.

Mabel, now the senior pet, continues to rule the roost in her own bedroom, a sweet brown tabby who refuses to come downstairs and interact with Charlotte.

Voices of August: No recap would be complete without mention of my annual guest blog project and post-publication meetup. For six years now, I’ve opened up the blog to a different writer each day during the month of August. It’s a wonderful thing to see — a diverse group of friends, relatives and co-workers from all over the country (and even abroad) each taking a turn writing about an issue or an experience that never fails to entertain, inform or resonate with an online audience.

This year’s VOA gathering was held at a Northeast Portland brewpub not far from our home and drew folks from three states, including my compadre, Al Rodriguez, and his lovely wife (and first-time VOA contributor), Elizabeth Lee.

***

hillary-buttonLike the other 65 million-plus Americans who voted for Hillary Clinton, I wish we were inaugurating the nation’s first female president. Instead, I’m left to hope that in 2017 we can endure the worst of what a Trump presidency can bring and begin building a coalition that returns the White House to someone we can put our trust in.

Happy New Year, everyone.

Advertisements

Lessons learned from Minidoka

notice-l

An Exclusion Order posted at First and Front Streets directs the removal of persons of Japanese ancestry from the first San Francisco section to be affected by the evacuation during World War II. (National Archives)

U.S. history books tell us of the abominable sin known as slavery and of the genocidal displacement of Native Americans at the hands of European explorers and colonists.

But if you’re like me, your textbooks might not have been as forthcoming about another huge stain on America’s history of human rights violations.

I’m talking about the forced removal and imprisonment of nearly 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry during World War II — an action taken against U.S. citizens under the authority of an Executive Order signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

I’m reasonably familiar with the overarching narrative.

In February 1942, little more than two months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the U.S. government created a military “exclusion zone” along the Pacific Coast, where it feared an attack by the Japanese military.

Law-abiding citizens lost their farms, homes and businesses and, with no due process, were rounded up in August 1942 and sent to one of 10 concentration camps in seven states, where they lived in hastily built compounds surrounded by guard towers and barbed wire fencing.

The camps were shut down after three years, after Japan’s surrender, with no reports whatsoever of treason or enemy threat from within. Eventually, in 1988, Congress formally apologized and President Ronald Reagan signed a bill authorizing $1.25 billion in reparations – $20,000 to each of the approximately 60,000 internees then still alive.

61mbufzm-gl-_sx460_bo1204203200_

A splendid book published by Boise State University in partnership with College of Southern Idaho.

Knowing the big picture of that mass incarceration is one thing. Learning and absorbing the details of that humiliating experience is another thing altogether.

Thanks to an elegant book I’ve just read, loaned to me by a friend who endured wartime incarceration with her parents and siblings, I’ve got a much better understanding now.

Let me introduce you to “Surviving Minidoka,” a beautifully written and illustrated book examining the legacy of WWII Japanese American incarceration.

There’s no better time to reflect on the lessons of that era than now, given our president-elect’s campaign rhetoric about a registry for immigrants from Muslim countries and possibly a database for all Muslims in the United States.

***

The Minidoka Relocation Center, also known as Hunt Camp after the nearby town of Hunt, was located in the arid sagebrush of south-central Idaho, about 130 miles southeast of Boise, the state’s capital and largest city.

Minidoka was operated by the U.S. War Relocation Authority and held more than 9,000 people from Washington, Oregon and Alaska in tarpaper barracks. “Surviving Minidoka” tells the story of that shameful period in U.S. history, tracing the long history of discrimination against Asian immigrants and the lingering bigotry that led military leaders to believe — wrongly — that Japanese American citizens living on the West Coast would be loyal to the Japanese Empire

The book’s 10 chapters, written by historians, artists, landscape architects, essayists and camp survivors, give voice to the men, women and children who were rounded up like cattle during WWII.

Poems, paintings, political cartoons and historical photographs document racist sentiments of the times while also chronicling internees’ efforts to make the best out of a deplorable situation.

On Minidoka’s 33,000 acres there were schools, fire stations, a hospital, a library, food stores, ballparks, theatres, vegetable gardens and traditional Japanese-style ornamental gardens and ponds.

Astoundingly, the federal government required all eligible Nisei men (second-generation) to register for the draft. Though dozens resisted and were convicted of draft evasion, nearly 1,000 men and women from Minidoka volunteered or were drafted for military service in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, Military Intelligence Service, Women’s Army Corps or the Army Nurse Corps, according to the book.

minidoka-honor-roll

Fumi Onodera, 20, points at the names of her three brothers, Ko, Kaun, and Satoru, who were listed on the Minidoka Honor Roll of Japanese Americans serving in the U. S. Army. (Courtesy of UC Berkeley, Bancroft Library)

The 442nd, made up nearly entirely of Japanese Americans, had nearly 14,000 men serve in the combat unit, and together won 21 Medals of Honor and 9.486 Purple Hearts during WWII. So much for disloyalty.

***

What’s most troubling about this aspect of our history is that so much of it took place in West Coast cities and communities where I’ve lived or otherwise know very well. It’s painful to see dozens of photos documenting the uprooting of Japanese families and business owners from places like San Francisco, Oakland and Salinas, California; Portland and Hood River, Oregon; Seattle, Everett and Bainbridge Island, Washington.

I’m ashamed that the campus of San Jose State University, my alma mater, served as a processing center for internees in California. I’m appalled that the Washington State Fairgrounds in Puyallup, just outside Tacoma, also served as an “assembly center.” And I’m chagrined to read about racist resort owners mistreating a family of recently released internees from Seattle who had hoped to vacation for a couple of days in Cannon Beach, Oregon.

registration-l

Residents of Japanese ancestry file forms containing personal data, two days before evacuation, at a Wartime Civil Control Administration station. (National Archives)

Though I only recently read the book, Minidoka has been on my mind for months.

A Japanese American friend and his 12-year-old daughter both wrote essays for my blog following their experiences this summer visiting Minidoka and another internment camp in Wyoming.

Related reading from Voices of August: American internment in the shadows of Yellowstone by Aki Mori; My visit to Heart Mountain by Midori Mori.

Not long thereafter, Lori and I went with friends to see a splendid play about Gordon Hirabayashi, the University of Washington student who was sent to prison in 1942 for willfully violating a wartime Army curfew. Our friend Nancy, who was just 3 years old when she and her family were sent to Minidoka, brought her copy of “Surviving Minidoka” and left it with me to peruse at my leisure. I finally got to it this month.

Minidoka 3

Young visitors explore an original WWII internment barrack that was located at a county fairground and returned to Minidoka. There were 432 such barracks at the camp. (Photograph by Aki Mori)

As I prepare to return the book, I’m grateful for the exposure to so many stories of ordinary people who stoically endured the camps and yet emerged with a sense of dignity that no government could stamp out.

I am struck by the wisdom of Frank Yoshikazu Kitamoto, a camp survivor who was 2 years old when the FBI arrested 34 men, including his father, in a 1942 raid near Seattle:

“Anger and defensiveness cause a vicious circle of fear. As human beings we can make the choice of responding in a fearful way or we can overcome our fears to think outward. No matter how hard people may try, they can never, never, never take away a person’s authentic power. Understanding this is a key to being able to look outward from one’s self. Human rights are love based and have no exceptions.”

Christmas 2016 rewind

siblings

The Rede siblings: Jordan, Simone and Nathan

There’s always such a long buildup to the holidays and then — poof! — they’re gone.

Well, not entirely. We still have New Year’s Eve to look forward to.

But, still, it feels as though we’ve crested the roller coaster and now we’re easing toward the final days of the year.

Quick, before the calendar leaps ahead, a look back at a fine celebration.

Friday: We got the party started on the 23rd. Lori’s brother, Jim, and his splendid wife, Judi, came over for dinner and to join us in hanging out with Jordan, Jamie and Emalyn.

jordan-judi-jim

The three Js: Jordan with his Aunt Judi and Uncle Jim.

Over tamales, refried beans, beer and wine, we shared stories about parenthood and grand-parenthood, now that we’ve joined the club. Jim and Judi have six.

Jordan and Jamie arrived the day before to attend the wedding of their friends, Vaughn and Candy, so it was nice to have them plant themselves for a few days.

Saturday: The celebration continued with a gathering at our place and a traditional hors d’hoevres dinner featuring more than a dozen appetizers to fill your plate. Lori likes this option more than an elaborate sit-down meal and who are we to disagree?

Along with Jordan & Jamie, we also had Simone & Kyndall and Nathan & Sara with us — a rare treat to have all three children and their spouses/partners. (Next year, they’ll scatter to be with their partners’ families.)

Another rarity: Lori and I joined Simone at a Christmas Eve service at a neighborhood church, Augustana Lutheran, known for its resident jazz quartet and national leadership as a sanctuary congregation. Nice to be in a church that respects all cultures and faiths and lives up to the values it preaches.

We made time for an early celebration of two birthdays — Jordan’s and mine — and called it a night.

Sunday: Not long after breakfast, the opening of gifts resumed, this time with Emalyn at front and center. This perpetually smiling baby turned five months old the day before and we were delighted to have her here for her first Christmas.

lori-emalyn

Nonni Lori and lil’ Emalyn.

A little after noon, we packed up Charlotte and headed over to Simone & Kyndall’s for a full day of activities and a four-star meal, painstakingly prepared by the two ladies.

simone-kyndall-2

Our hosts: Simone and Kyndall.

Food may be the fuel but family is the real nourishment at times like these. It’s so good to be around your adult children and their wonderful partners. There were no issues with the dogs — four in total, each of them weighing 15 pounds or less — and the only glitch came when we settled in to watch “Elf.”

Evidently, too many neighbors on the Internet foiled our plan to watch Will Ferrell in his Oscar-winning (er, unforgettable) role as Buddy the Elf.

No biggie. We all left with full bellies and full hearts. Isn’t that what every family wants from this holiday season?

Sounds of the season

concert2

Members of the Portland Intergenerational Choir perform at Pacifica Calaroga Terrace.

Monday nights usually find me at the bowling alley, sipping on a cold beer and enjoying the company of my teammates. Last night, I departed from that routine and instead found myself in the chapel of an assisted living facility.

The reason?

Lori and I went to see our daughter, Simone, perform Christmas carols and other songs as part of the Portland Intergenerational Women’s Choir. With choir members ranging in age from 10 to 80 years old, it was a musical and visual experience that lifted our spirits. Just the kind of thing to put us in a proper mood for the hectic holidays to come.

It was charming to see about 30 women of all ages gathered together to sing all the traditional songs (“Silent Night,” “Deck The Halls,” and more) as well as the 1961 classic “Stand By Me.” Five preteen girls stood next to each other, one row above four older ladies seated in chairs. All around them were women in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, etc. In the back row, a 1-year-old named Edith bobbed and bounced on the shoulders of her young mother.

All were singing with abandon, with more joy than technique. But that was the appealing thing. And I don’t think I’m being too hokey saying their happiness radiated into the audience of about 50, many of them residents of the facility who came with walkers and wheelchairs. Three choir members, in fact, live there in the high-rise retirement community known as Pacifica Calaroga Terrace.

***

Simone has always loved singing. Since middle school, she’s been a part of one choir or another, performing around the metro area and even touring internationally with the Portland Symphonic Girlchoir and the Grant High School Royal Blues.

concert3

Choir director Crystal Akins urges the audience to sing along.

She was excited to invite us to her latest group, a choral residency choir that teams up with nursing and assisted living homes to provide weekly on-site rehearsals to residents and community members.

The director is Crystal Akins, a cheerful and energetic woman who sang with Simone back in her Girl Choir days. Crystal leads multiple choirs, including one serving inmates at a women’s prison in Wilsonville and another serving homeless youth in Beaverton.

Talk about walking the walk.

***

concert4

A post-concert photo of two lovelies: Lori and Simone

Though the concert was upbeat, there was a touch of melancholy associated with the venue.

Calaroga Terrace, a mile from our home, is where Lori’s mother lived in the final years of her life after she had moved up from San Francisco to be closer to us and other family members. Virginia, a devout Catholic, would attend services in the chapel where the concert was held. She died 11 years ago and neither Lori nor I had been there since.

We’re not sure if Virginia would have joined the choir had it been an option. But we’re certain she would have loved seeing her granddaughter sing — and no doubt would have joined in on the Christmas carols.

The amazing Brenda Tracy

brenda-tracy

Brenda Tracy, the last and most riveting of our guest speakers in Media Ethics, an undergraduate course at Portland State University.

If you don’t know Brenda Tracy’s story, you should.

Few, if any, of my Media Ethics students had even heard of her until Brenda spoke to them in class two weeks ago. After listening to Brenda describe her journey from gang-rape survivor with no self-esteem to self-confident public speaker on sexual abuse and rape culture, I doubt they will ever forget her.

I already knew Brenda’s compelling story, having read it two years ago when it landed on the front page of The Sunday Oregonian. But as I listened to her retell it that Thursday morning, I knew I had made the right choice inviting her to be our final guest speaker for the fall term.

My students had already learned a lot from previous speakers — a variety of journalists and public relations professionals — about how to do journalism ethically and responsibly. How to report accurately while also practicing discretion about unnecessary details. How to show empathy without losing one’s objectivity. How to interview a vulnerable subject about sensitive issues and help that person brace for the resulting public exposure and reader reaction.

But the students hadn’t heard directly from anyone who could tell them what it’s like to entrust the telling of your story — including invasive, humiliating facts — to a reporter. For an hour, they listened and learned as this remarkable woman reflected on her experiences and credited a principled and highly skilled journalist for restoring her dignity and bringing her out of the shadows. .

***

In 1998, Brenda Tracy was a waitress, a 24-year-old single mother of two boys, when she was gang-raped by four men, two college football players and two recruits, in an off-campus apartment near Oregon State University.

She’d been sexually abused as a child and had been in abusive relationships as a young woman. After the attack, Brenda said, she felt suicidal, her self-esteem in shreds.

The four men were charged but never brought to trial. The local district attorney needed Brenda’s cooperation to get convictions but she wavered, feeling lack of support from people closest to her and believing herself not strong enough to go through the process.

She didn’t know the prosecutor had taped confessions from the suspects. She didn’t know the police had tossed out her rape kit without even testing it.

She only knew that two Oregon State players were suspended for one game and ordered to give 25 hours of community service for what their coach, Mike Riley, called “a bad choice.” The other two suspects went unpunished.

Brenda said she hated Riley for years, hated him even more than her rapists. But she finally met with him this year, after he said he regretted making the “bad choice” remark, and changed her opinion of the man.

After Riley left Oregon last year to become head coach at the University of Nebraska, he invited Brenda to speak to all 144 members of his football team this summer and formally apologized to her.

“We talked about consent and we brainstormed ideas about how they could get involved individually and as a team to change the culture that valued winning over human lives,” Brenda wrote following her June 22 visit with the team. “We covered a lot of ground in that one hour and when it was over many of them came up to me and shook my hand or gave me a hug and thanked me for being there.”

brenda-tracy-mike-riley

Brenda Tracy with Coach Mike Riley following their meeting in Lincoln, Nebraska on June 22, 2016. (Photograph by Brenda Tracy)

***

Today, at 43, Brenda Tracy is more than a rape survivor. Brenda is a registered nurse and a paid consultant working with Oregon State officials to prevent sexual violence, especially involving college athletes. She’s also a citizen activist who’s lobbied for changes in Oregon’s rape laws, providing more time to bring charges in the most serious cases.

She worked with a Portland attorney on 2015 legislation that extended Oregon’s statute of limitations for first-degree sex crimes from six to 12 years, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported. A law passed the following year provides that if new evidence emerges — such as a previously untested rape kit, or new testimony from witnesses or other victims — a case can be reconsidered at any time.

brenda-tracy-poster

Brenda Tracy is the featured speaker at a conference planned in Vancouver, Washington, early next year.

Since sports columnist John Canzano told her story in November 2014, Brenda has been interviewed by local and national media, appeared on television, spoken at college campuses, and testified before Oregon lawmakers.

None of these efforts to help other rape survivors would have been possible without the publication of a story that allowed her to heal emotionally. To see herself once again as a person worthy of respect. And to challenge the notion that victims are responsible for what happened to them.

“John absolutely changed my life,” Brenda said. “He transformed my entire life.”

***

Until she spoke to my class, I hadn’t met Brenda Tracy. We’d exchanged emails and spoken by phone this summer when I was setting up a Skype interview with her for two high school students I mentored during a journalism camp at Oregon State.

I was impressed that she made time to speak to the two teenagers, considering it was the day before she was scheduled to fly to Lincoln, Nebraska, to speak to Riley’s football team. A real sign of her character, I thought.

In person, Brenda was warm and gracious.She spoke without notes and patiently answered students’ questions. It was clear that her tale of personal redemption and her testament to the power of ethical journalism resonated with both men and women in my class. .

“If you write these stories, you have to understand this is a life,” she told them. “It’s not about you — it’s about the victim, it’s about the survivor.”

When the hour was up, she gave me a hug in front of the class and offered to come speak again.

We often toss around the words “hero” and “amazing” to describe people who’ve displayed uncommon courage or done extraordinary things. In my mind, there is no doubt both words apply to Brenda Tracy.

***

Read John Canzano’s 2014 story here.

Read continuing coverage of Brenda Tracy here.

Follow Brenda Tracy on Facebook here.

A round of thank-yous

thank-you-pen

High-fives to all those who helped or inspired me before and during the fall quarter.

If it takes a village to raise a child, the same applies to a newbie educator teaching his first full-time class.

I just finished teaching Media Ethics, an undergraduate course in the Department of Communications at Portland State University. The class began in late September and wrapped up last week with a final exam and posting of grades. But the preparation began months before and I got help along the way from an assorted cast of people.

It’s time to thank each and every one.

coleman-new-mug

Cynthia-Lou Coleman

Cynthia-Lee Coleman. My biggest advocate. As chair of the Communications Department, Cindy hired me several years ago to teach two weekend “mini-courses” when I was still working at The Oregonian. No longer leading the department but still teaching as a full professor, Cindy urged me to consider adjunct teaching after I left the newsroom. She went to bat for me with her successor and I was offered a contract in June. She’s been a terrific sounding board and a constant source of reassurance during the term.

Jeffrey Robinson. The one who hired me. Jeff succeeded Cindy as Communications Department chair. He initially asked me to teach this fall and next winter. Recently, he asked me to teach in the spring quarter, too. Delighted to have his vote of confidence.

David Kennamer. An assistant professor. David has previously taught Media Ethics and has been generous sharing class materials and insights. He loaned me his textbook to read in advance of teaching the class; he welcomed me to sit in on a summer class he was teaching; and he shared his observations about today’s college students. I’ve run into him several times this term and we’ve commiserated about our classes.

Lee Shaker. Also an assistant professor. Lee also has been generous with his time. I watched him teach a Media Literacy class this spring and paid him a visit this fall to pick his brain as I’ll be teaching the course during winter quarter. During our conversation, Lee reminded me to keep the big picture in mind — doing whatever we can to help students be successful. (As a sign of how we are all connected, Lee is a cousin of Anne Saker, a talented reporter I worked with at The Oregonian and visited last spring in Cincinnati, where she now lives.)

bailey-psu

Bailey, one of a handful of work-study students who provided clerical help.

The work-study students in the Comm Department. I relied on a handful of students for help making photocopies of graded papers and exams before many a class. I got to know one of them, Bailey, a pre-law major from Forest Grove, better than the others because she regularly worked Tuesday and Thursday mornings when I taught. All were a huge help in saving me time and effort.

GUEST SPEAKERS

My students loved each and every one. I’m thankful to have this network of professional colleagues who so generously gave their time and shared their experiences.

Mark Katches, editor and vice president/content at The Oregonian/OregonLive. Mark provided an overview of the news industry’s transition from print to digital. While acknowledging the challenges, he also was upbeat about journalism’s continuing role as a government watchdog.

Nigel Jaquiss, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter at Willamette Week. A Wall Street bond trader who became a journalist, Nigel left an indelible impression by explaining the difference between the public’s “right to know” and readers’ “need to know.” That’s a subtle but important distinction in providing or withholding information about public figures and captures well the concept of “discretion.”

Kyle Iboshi, investigative reporter at KGW. When Kyle talked about the challenges of doing a live TV broadcast during a street protest — think audible profanities, obscene gestures, F-bombs on handmade placards — students understood what he meant about making on-the-spot ethical decisions that strike a balance between offensive content and accuracy.

kyle-iboshi-nigel-jaquiss

Investigative reporters Kyle Ibohsi of KGW, left, and Nigel Jaquiss of Willamette Week discuss their craft with Media Ethics students at Portland State.

Jean Kempe-Ware, public relations consultant and former spokeswoman at Lewis & Clark College. Many of students were in kindergarten when the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal broke in the mid-90s. Jean had their full attention when she described the unethical behavior of mainstream journalists trying to get confidential information about Monica Lewinsky, a former student at the private liberal arts college in Portland where Jean worked at the time.

Chris Broderick, associate vice president for communications and marketing at Portland State. A former colleague at The Oregonian, Chris transitioned to public relations a few years ago and now oversees a staff of 18 at PSU. He spoke candidly about missteps the university made when it lined up a press conference to announce a major gift from an anonymous donor — only to have the gift fall through when officials learned the donor didn’t have the financial resources he claimed.

Dianne Danowski Smith, vice president at Publix Northwest. This public relations pro uttered a phrase that stuck with the class and wound up as a question on the final term. In today’s digital media environment we  have “too many publishers, not enough editors.”

John Schrag, executive editor at the Pamplin Media Group, the chain of suburban newspapers ringing the metro area. John previously was editor and publisher of the News-Times in Forest Grove and still resides there. When you’re a well-known journalist living in a small town, conflicts of interest involving your employer and family members are par for the course, he told students.

Samantha Swindler, Metro columnist at The Oregonian/OregonLive and Oregon Territory chapter president of the Society of Professional Journalists. Samantha, who also has endured life in a fishbowl in Forest Grove, urged students to be more savvy about their media consumption — a challenge that prompted some pushback.

Jeff Mapes, senior political reporter at Oregon Public Broadcasting. One week after America elected a new president, the pre-eminent political reporter in Oregon paid us a visit to share his deep knowledge of Northwest politics and campaign coverage. Jeff admitted he and just about everyone else underestimated Donald Trump.

Beth Nakamura, photojournalist extraordinaire at The Oregonian/OregonLive. Beth made a profound impression in discussing the ethical aspects of photojournalism — a concept that had never occurred to most in the class. She talked about the taboo of staging a news photo and of her commitment to increasing the visibility of ordinary people. This, she said, can be done through visual storytelling suffused with honesty and dignity.

beth-nakamura

Raised in a working class town in western Massachusetts, photojournalist Beth Nakamura says she seeks to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable” — a saying that originated with Chicago journalist Finley Peter Dunne in 1902.

Brenda Tracy, sexual assault survivor and citizen lobbyist. For our final class, I asked the victim of a heinous crime — a gang-rape that went un-prosecuted in the late 1990s — to talk about what it’s like to entrust your story to a journalist and find yourself thrust into the media spotlight. Brenda said she regained her self-esteem and later joined in efforts to reform Oregon’s rape laws — and declared none of it would have been possible without accurate, meticulous, ethical reporting by John Canzano of The Oregonian/OregonLive.

***

Finally, a tip of the hat to a trio of professors across the country who offered tips and inspiration, directly and indirectly: Dean Miller, Jacqui Banaszynski, Angie Chuang.

And last, but certainly not least…

Lori Rauh Rede. My wife, my rock. Only Lori knows how many hours I devoted to preparing for and slogging through this term. She listened to my stories — of success and disappointment, of surprise and inspiration — and she tolerated the many nights and weekends I spent preparing lectures and slideshows, grading essays and exams, and doing outside reading.

oi-lori

My beautiful wife, Lori.

We went to dinner last week at a favorite Lebanese restaurant to celebrate the end of the term. It was hardly enough. I know I am truly fortunate to have the love and support of this woman I first locked eyes with on the student newspaper staff at San Jose State.

Previously: 9 takeaways from Media Ethics

Next: The amazing Brenda Tracy

9 takeaways from Media Ethics

psu-campus-olive

The transition from journalist to educator began this fall with my teaching of an undergraduate communications class at Portland State. (Photograph: The Oregonian)

In late September, I stood in front of a group of 33 young adults in a university classroom. They had registered for Comm 410, an undergraduate Media Ethics course at Portland State University, and I’d been hired as their adjunct instructor.

Like a new kid on the first day of school, I felt a jumble of emotions — nervousness, excitement and confidence, for sure, but mostly curiosity about how this venture would go and what we would learn together along the way.

Just 11 weeks later, I’m astonished at how quickly the academic quarter came and went. I’m also very satisfied — and very proud — at how everything came together for the students and me.

Related reading: My second act

Numerical scores and letter grades provide ways of measuring student achievement. But they don’t fully capture the individual progress one sees in a student who makes a commitment to embrace an unfamiliar subject. These were communications majors, not journalism students, and they knew far less than I imagined about the broad challenges facing contemporary mass media, let alone the differences among various local and national news outlets.

Much to my delight, several students emerged with newfound knowledge about the subject and, equally important, with insights into their own character.

As for me, I had multiple “ah-ha” moments along the way. Not the least of which was recognizing I needed to dial back my expectations if the students and I were going to be successful.

I came in thinking I’d be strict about insisting each and every writing assignment was turned in on time. After all, I reasoned, meeting deadlines is essential not just in journalism but in life in general. I also came in thinking I would turn a deaf ear to what I imagined would be a litany of excuses of why things couldn’t get done on time.

I was wrong. So wrong.

Simply put, I led with my head and learned with my heart.

***

There was no better time to teach Media Ethics than the fall of 2016. We were in the throes of a presidential campaign that never failed to surprise how low we could go as a nation in choosing the next occupant of the White House. Everyone had their take on the news media as a lap dog, watch dog or scapegoat.

This maelstrom of tweets, investigative reports, pussygate videos, rally coverage and “fake news” blazing across social media — all of it cried out for context and understanding. Meeting twice a week for two hours at a time, we sought to familiarize ourselves with philosophical concepts and ethical news values (such as accuracy, tenacity, transparency and equity) that could be applied to contemporary digital and print journalism.

psu-comm-dept

Happy to be hired as an adjunct instructor.

With a roster of guest speakers whose real-world experiences made our textbook lessons come alive, we connected the dots in ways that left indelible impressions on the students. Hearing how these highly principled editors, reporters, photographers and public relations professionals were drawn to their work in the first place — and how they have dealt with so many tough ethical decisions in their careers — was eye-opening for the class.

These discussions were invariably livelier than anything I might present in a lecture, but that was my purpose. I wanted to lay the groundwork and then have each guest discuss a specific issue and/or recall a particular story that imparted a lesson. It worked.

***

So now, with the final exam in the rearview mirror and final grades posted, it’s time for my 9 takeaways. Some of these I already knew. Others I learned with my head, others with my heart.

1. Embrace diversity. In a class of 33 students, I had 18 men, 15 women. Of these, 15 were racial or ethnic minorities and 7 were athletes — 3 football players, 3 softball players and 1 sprinter on the track team. All were juniors and seniors, except for one sophomore. At least two were young moms. Another was the parent of two college-age daughters.

2. Make connections. On the first day, I told my students I grew up in a working-class, ethnic household and was the first in my family to attend college. I worked part-time and commuted 20 miles to school my first two years. I know the same was true for many of my students. Some were holding down two jobs and at least one was working full-time. Some were young parents as well. On a campus where the average age is 26, I could relate to these young adults as if they were my own children.

3. Be flexible. I came in thinking I’d be unyielding about deadlines. I didn’t anticipate the extent to which life intervenes. Students fell ill or had parents who did, necessitating visits to the emergency room. Others had employers who changed their work hours or scheduled mandatory training that conflicted with class hours. I saw no reason to penalize students who were trying their best to juggle school, work and family. In the end, what mattered to me was that the work got done.

media-ethics-cover-copy4. Be patient. Two weeks into the term, I realized I had expected too much too soon. I’d assigned the first paper, asking students to connect their media consumption to one of a handful of ethical principles we’d discussed during our first classes. Reading their essays, it became obvious that they didn’t possess the same vocabulary I’d developed as a journalist nor had they been exposed to basic concepts I took for granted. I decided to return their papers with constructive feedback but no grades. More important, I announced we were hitting the reset button and starting fresh with Week Three. In retrospect, a good decision.

5. Bring in the experts. If there is anything that set my class apart, it was the ability to bring in local journalists and public relations professionals as guest speakers. Students heard from 11 individuals representing The Oregonian/OregonLive, Willamette Week, KGW, Pamplin Media Group, Oregon Public Broadcasting, Portland State University and more. It was a delight to see the interaction. Students’ questions elicited thoughtful responses from the pros that made it clear doing journalism or PR means constantly dealing with ethical dilemmas. How do you obtain and present the news? How do you deal with vulnerable sources and conflicts of interest? How do you frame stories and own up to errors? How you conduct yourself reflects on your personal integrity and your employer’s credibility.

6. Ask for help. I sought out plenty of assistance long before the first class from senior and junior faculty members in the Communications Department — and continued doing so as the term went on. I adapted some of what I’d seen online to my syllabus. More than once, I consulted with technical support staff so I’d know how to deal with classroom technology. And, not least, I relied on work-study students in the Comm Department for help photocopying essays and exams.

7. Be real. As the term went on, I became increasingly mindful of the big picture. Portland State is an urban campus with a high percentage of first-generation, part-time and transfer students where only 41 percent of full-time freshmen graduate within six years. (Compare that to just over 60 percent at the University of Oregon and Oregon State University.) You’ll never confuse this place with an elite liberal arts campus situated in some small town far away from urban areas. In such places, students straight out of high school typically have the luxury of going to school full-time, often with minimal financial worries or family obligations. At Portland State, not so much.

graduation-rates-chart

8. Be encouraging. Understanding that everyone starts in a different place gave me the perspective to calibrate my criticism. With some students who struggled to express themselves clearly, it was a matter of editing their papers in a way that reinforced the basics of grammar, punctuation and word choice. With more advanced students, it was a matter of challenging them to consider this idea or that concept. In either case, it had to be done with respect, not condescension, and I took care to praise visible progress. As I graded the final exam, I got a lump in my throat seeing that one student who had struggled early on had scored 90, the fourth-highest score in the class. Late in the term, about one-third of the class opted to do an extra-credit assignment to boost their chances of a better grade. For many, it was their best paper of the term.

9. Be grateful. In their last writing assignment and in emails, several students said they had learned a lot from the course and now viewed the mass media in an entirely different, more positive way. Some said Media Ethics was their favorite class. A few even said they were applying ethical principles to their behavior in everyday life. And then there was this from one of my quieter students: “This class truly changed my life and allowed me to learn so much…It changed my life in guiding me in a different career direction, and validating my thoughts of being a journalist. I know now that I am capable of being a journalist, and by taking this class I found that I possess a lot of the characteristics that it takes to be a good journalist. Thank you!!!!”

Seeing I had that kind of impact is pretty humbling and makes me excited for next term. I’ll be teaching Media Literacy during the winter quarter. Six of my students have signed up for the class. I take that as a good sign.

Next: A round of thank-yous

Lessons from a mother

mother-new-yorker

Since I began teaching in late September, I’ve had no time for a book and very little time for  magazine articles.

So when classes ended last week, I treated myself to a simple pleasure: a morning cup of joe, my recliner and The New Yorker. Flipping through the latest copy of the magazine, I was drawn to an article headlined “The Teacher.”

How could I resist?

Although I still have a final exam to give this week, I was feeling pretty good about how things went during my first stab at teaching an 11-week course in communications.

What insights might I gain from a first-person essay written by the son of a teacher?

At least three, it turns out.

The author, James Wood, opens with a scene from his mother’s funeral (she was 87), then segues to a discussion of how teaching ran in his family (his father also was a teacher and his mother’s grandfather was in charge of a small school in the Scottish countryside) and of what he learned about his mother after her death.

It’s clear-eyed prose, written with the precision of a New Yorker staff writer and book critic who also teaches literary criticism at Harvard. Drawing on childhood memories, Wood recalls the selfless sacrifice his “perpetually impoverished parents” made, each working multiple jobs, so that their three children could attend expensive boarding schools. An unnecessary sacrifice, he says, because a grammar school not far from town sent kids every year to Oxford and Cambridge.

But his mother was determined that her two boys and one daughter would have nothing but the finest private education, even if it meant she worked a Saturday job at a bookstore cash register in addition to teaching English at a girls’ high school.

My three takeaways?

1. A glimpse of a Northern European culture I know little of. Wood describes his mother as a hard worker from the lower middle class with a demeanor reminiscent of Margaret Thatcher.

In many ways, she was an almost stereotypically Scottish mother (the goyish version of the Jewish caricature)—passionate, narrow, judgmental, always aspiring. Her children were her artifacts, through which she created the drama of her own restless ambitions. These ambitions were moral and social. She wanted us to be morally successful, to get the best possible grades from the Great Examiner.

It’s uncanny that the description popped up at the same time Lori and I were laboring through a Netflix film about a young Scottish girl in the early 20th century, overcoming hardships in a household headed by a father whose disciplinarian ways spilled over into physical and emotional abuse. Not that I’m saying all Scots are this way…

2. A reminder of my own mother. Wood describes receiving an email from one of his mother’s former students, an accomplished poet who was one of her great success stories. He writes:

All sons adore their complicated mothers, in one way or another. But how powerful to encounter, from someone else, the beautifully uncomplicated statement “I adored her.”

As a young boy and continuing into my mid-20s, I thought the world of my mother. In my mind, she was the standout among six sisters in a family of migrant farmworkers — smart, funny, feisty, pretty, a hard worker, and utterly devoted to my two sisters and me. Deprived of the opportunity to attend even high school, she encouraged me at a young age to do well in school and go to college.

After Lori and I became parents, complications ensued and things were never the same. Differing views over religion and child-rearing were exacerbated by distance. Toward the end of life, she became more reclusive, less physically active, and focused on a variety of ailments, both real and imagined.

I loved her, of course, and I knew she adored me. But “complicated” hardly begins to explain our relationship.

3. An even greater appreciation of the teaching profession. Having just concluded a course that demanded of me far more time than I imagined, I am fully aware that one goes into this line of work not for the money, but to have an impact on others’ lives. Wood writes:

I had a sense that my mother was a good teacher, but I had no idea that she had been such an influential one, and in the very area I had chosen, and struggled to succeed in, often in the face of parental doubts. She had been not just a good teacher but a crucial literary encourager, and I had not been able to see this well enough…

Through the eyes of others and only after her death is Wood able to see the gift his mother gave — not to just her students but to him as well. I can only hope to have the same positive influence on the young men and women who come through my classroom.

Read Wood’s essay: “The Teacher”

Illustration: Gerard Dubois

On the mend with Charlotte

charlotte-peanut

The Little Peanut waits for a morning treat.

It was just 10 days ago that a visit to a local dog park nearly ended in tragedy.

You know the story: Two unleashed pit bull mixes came after our little Charlotte, intent on mauling her, but got me instead.

Dozens of you expressed concern and for that I am deeply grateful. I’m happy to say our physical wounds are nearly healed. And I’m optimistic Charlotte will be back to her rambunctious self once she’s back to 100 percent.

A week ago today, I saw a nurse practitioner. She examined the bites around my right elbow, said they appeared to healing on their own with no issues, and submitted a report to the county animal control department. I wasn’t eager to undergo any kind of antibiotics regimen and she agreed it wasn’t necessary. The scab on the most prominent cut fell off earlier this week and I suspect I may have a one-inch scar to show for it.

The following day, we took Charlotte in to see the vet. A day earlier, the day after Thanksgiving, Lori discovered what we had both missed — an open wound near Charlotte’s tail. It wasn’t evident at first because of her black fur and the fact that it had already begun scabbing. Only then did I realize that one of the pit bulls must have bitten her as I was clutching her to my chest, trying to keep her safe from the leaping dogs.

The vet put our little terrier on antibiotics and gave us a soft-cloth cone to put around her neck so she couldn’t reach the wound. All went well for 48 hours. Then, one afternoon as she snuggled at my feet, I noticed a bright red spot and realized sneaky Charlotte had licked the scab off when her cone was temporarily off. We applied an ointment and on went the cone again.

At this point, the wound seems well on its way to being completely healed. Charlotte has a shaved patch near her tail but eventually her fur will grow back.

If I ever encounter the dogs’ owner, I’ll be sure to give her an earful and demand she reimburse us for the vet bill. Pretty irresponsible of her to leave the scene without giving her name and contact information.

(Click on images to view captions.)

Psychologically, the unprovoked attack was upsetting for all of us.

The idea that a romp in the park would turn into 30 seconds of chaos was pretty disturbing. I honestly didn’t know whether either of us would be severely injured. Afterward, I faced the reality that little Charlotte most likely would have been killed if either dog had latched onto her.

Charlotte shivered that night as she laid on our laps. If I’d only known she’d been bitten too, we would have given her immediate medical attention.

In the days since it happened, I think it’s fair to say we’ve only grown closer to Charlotte. Certainly, more protective.

Twice a week when I drive downtown to teach a class at Portland State, my route takes me past The Pixie Project, the animal adoption center where Charlotte was placed after being picked up off the streets.

We will never know what she endured in the first year of her life, but I do know she won’t lack for love or attention as long as she is with us. Our Little Peanut, as we have begun calling her, may be not much bigger than a cat but she may as well as be a St. Bernard when it comes to filling our hearts.