Forum: May-June 2005

June 1, 2005

Paper Debate

I'm a bit mystified why an ownership change at Durham's newspaper would be something to be addressed in Duke Magazine ["Gargoyle," March-April 2005], but, granting that's reasonable, I'm truly unable to comprehend why it would be addressed solely in an unrebutted opinion column.

First, let me note an important point: The previous management of The Herald-Sun had actually been losing money--an unusual feat in modern American daily newspaper publishing. Despite the eyebrows-arched quotes around the word "viable," that was exactly the challenge we faced--to restore financial viability to a newspaper. The paper's financial problems were real--and, I can only surmise, were a reason the previous owners chose to sell the paper. It takes two parties to change ownership of a newspaper--and the family that is selling makes the first move.

We've committed money to make long-needed press repairs, to replace aging computer equipment that couldn't run necessary up-to-date software, and, perhaps most important for our employees, to make up a serious shortfall in the company's pension fund.

It's curious that Bob Wilson would raise the specter of new owners with "no ties to the local community and ... few incentives to create them." The new publisher is a Durham native; I'm a Duke graduate who grew up in North Carolina and spent much of my professional life in this state. We're both becoming active in civic affairs.

Job cuts were regrettable, as they always are. Any new owner would almost surely have had to take similar steps. We've received some criticism for the abrupt terminations that mostly (but not completely) involved top managers on the first day. Our lawyers advised us that was the best way to handle the situation; in this day of tightly woven computer networks, it would have taken only one angry act to destroy critical files or undercut the computer system--and put at risk the jobs of the loyal employees remaining behind. In our staff reductions, many of which in the newsroom were made after careful consultation with top newsroom managers, our goal was to spare as much as possible positions that went out and reported and wrote news. We were fairly successful.

Since January 3, we've aggressively increased our emphasis on local news. We believe that in these days of around-the-clock cable news channels and hundreds of Internet news sites, the unique value we bring readers is coverage of our city and region. We bring our readers more local news, seven days a week, than any other medium.

We're striving to be more inclusive of Durham's many communities, to be accessible, and to be civil. We've received more than enough positive feedback to reassure me that our readers don't see this as "fluff-and-puff journalism."

Finally, while we've conscientiously avoided discussing any individual situations, it's a matter of record that editorial page editor Wilson was one of the employees who was let go in early January. There was, curiously, no mention of that fact in his "Under the Gargoyle" column. Perhaps that wouldn't influence his analysis of the ownership change; I'll let you be the judge of that.

Robert H. Ashley '70
Editor, The Herald-Sun


Bob Wilson's article is extremely disturbing. The trend has been noticeable for some time, but the crassness of this particular takeover is inexcusable. I did some work for the Herald many years ago, submitting photographs of local events, accidents, fires, etc. I expect that the "new breed" has little interest in a house fire in Lowe's Grove or a tractor-trailer crashing into a building at UNC.

There is a remedy: a new independent newspaper staffed by real journalists.

It will take a lot of financial backing and an "angel" willing to let the professionals run the show. Duke has a lot of wealthy graduates who just might start such a trend. Someone could work with the journalism school at UNC (!) and people like Wilson to gather a staff and get it started. There are still a lot of small independent weeklies and tri-weeklies where production equipment might be leased.

Surely, there are enough newspaper addicts who would support such a venture. Local advertising, local readership, and real news could trump Gannett and Murdoch. It would take time and effort to get back to the old Herald or Greensboro News or Winston-Salem Journal, but a lot of us wish someone would try.

Dave Mathewes Ph.D. '63
Canton, North Carolina


Critiques

We conservative Christian Duke graduates are fortunate that we have Professor Stanley Hauerwas and Duke Magazine to tell us how ignorant and stupid we really are. Before I read his review of the Pinsky book on Disney in the March-April 2005 issue, I never dreamt I was so dumb.

Winfield H. Rose A.M. '70, Ph.D. '73
Murray, Kentucky


On the right side of your Web page [January-February 2005], you have 1) Dr. Brodhead extolling freedom of speech, which I applaud; 2) Barney Frank extolling gay and lesbianism, which is compatible with 1; 3) a slur at Attorney General John Ashcroft. Am I to conclude that Barney Frank is a worthy example and John Ashcroft unworthy? Does Ashcroft have no redeeming value? Why is he never quoted in a positive context? Do you expect Duke graduates to believe that there is not a large body of his service that has been beneficial to the USA? I would not belabor this were it not a typical example of your editorial philosophy.

William E. Dillard Jr. '48
Auburn, Alabama


Sleep Endowed

Thanks for the great article on the sleep-deprived state of Duke ["Sleepless in Southgate," January-February 2005]. However, there are some Duke students who do get enough sleep, and that side was left out of the article. I'm living proof of the ability to get through college with eight to nine hours of sleep per night and still have a good time. And I still make sleep a priority in medical school. All it takes is some willpower, a good fan or earplugs, and understanding roommates.

Dorsey Rickard '03
Nashville, Tennessee


Remembering Tetel

I am deeply saddened to learn of the death of Professor Marcel Tetel [January-February 2005]. I was in his conversational-French class as a freshman. I admit I was a bit intimidated at first. He certainly had a very dry sense of humor: My maiden name was "Stout," so of course he called me "Mlle. Grosse."

Professor Tetel made it clear to his students that cruising through the class with nominal effort was no longer acceptable. He taught us about the work ethic; he was very demanding. But he did something else even more important. I always knew as I was taking his classes, and as I've reflected afterwards, that he had faith in me. Even when my performance was mediocre, he made it clear that he believed in me, and knew I would do better next time. So I did. And before long, I was believing in myself.

He must surely have perceived us undergrads to be self-centered, entitled, and lazy--we sometimes were. I was stunned when I read his obituary and learned of his past as a Jewish youth during the Nazi occupation of Europe. I had no clue he had lived through such tragedy.

He was so patient with his students, treated us all with great respect, and made us each feel genuinely valued. He was a great professor. His influence profoundly changed my life for the better.

Gini Stout Van Siclen '77
Idaho Falls, Idaho


Sinking the Soviets

I enjoyed reading the January-February issue. However, after reading the review of Jack Matlock's book [Reagan and Gorbachev: How the Cold War Ended], I thought I should write to say that I would have thought a review of a book about Reagan and Gorbachev would at least mention Afghanistan and the role the Soviet war in that country played in contributing to the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War.

For those who were exposed to events--not from the "traditional" Cold War perspective of Europe and the U.S.-Soviet rivalry, but rather from the vantage point of Southwest-Central Asia, both in the field operating a medical-relief program for the refugees and, later, with a think tank studying the war and its impact--my colleagues and I were convinced that the forces at play on the Afghan battleground contributed significantly, if not critically, to the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The Afghan mujahideen, for their part, laid claim to having brought down the mighty Soviet bear (though some would grudgingly admit the U.S. Stinger missiles also played a role).

Perhaps many in the West would not go so far, but the significance of the Afghan claim surely gains additional credence when one considers the course of subsequent events in which Afghanistan has figured:†9/11, support for the jihadists, the rise of the Taliban, Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda, and the War on Terrorism. Indeed, now that the Cold War is over, the War on Terrorism has taken center stage in U.S. foreign policy.

Allen K. Jones A.M. '71, Ph.D. '77
Washington, D.C.


Not Divesting

President Brodhead is quoted in the November-December 2004 issue telling an audience at the Center for Jewish Life that Duke would not divest from Israel because divestment is such "an extraordinarily blunt weapon" for a complex situation. Divestment "would be used only as a last resort where there was a very significant, enduring consensus within this country. There's nothing to suggest that exists," he said.

It is discouraging to be told that Duke is going to provide the same level of moral "leadership" on this question that it did on civil rights and integration in the Fifties. By Brodhead's reasoning, the university will follow, not lead, society on controversial issues such as civil rights, apartheid, and divestment. Is that the best we can expect from Duke: that it will ratify the consensus?

Richard Bevis '59
Vancouver, British Columbia


Fulfilled

I enjoyed reading the article "The Skinny on the Low-Carb Craze" [September-October 2004]. I've always felt there should be a fullness factor associated with food. The goal would be to eat foods that fill you up with few calories and to avoid foods that don't fill you up but have lots of calories, like soda. This would certainly help when choosing what to eat.

Julia Jackson '92
Collegeville, Pennsylvania