Where are the adults?

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An “adult” confronts a protestor at the University of Missouri. [YouTube/Mark Schierbecker]

Yesterday, Tim Tai, a University of Missouri student and photographer on assignment from ESPN.com, had a heated confrontation on campus with a group of student protestors [VIDEO]. The protestors wanted the media gone. Tai said the First Amendment gave him the same right to be there. Students shouted at him and eventually walked en masse into him, pushing him away.

One adult, reportedly a campus employee, got in Tai’s face, heckled him, and physically pushed him. Afterward, a professor tried to grab the phone of the person filming the ordeal and asked students to send some “muscle” to remove him.

This was a great learning opportunity for the students, both the photographer and the protestors. The adults on the scene squandered that opportunity in the worst way.

Reporters can and should be as aggressive as they need to be if accountable public figures or taxpayers’ money is involved. But they need to use their discretion and judgment with subjects who aren’t often in the media.

Respect is key. The photographer could have been more respectful in his approach and not instantly made it a First Amendment battle. But he’s young, a student. As a teacher, I see that as an opportunity for someone to learn. Some of the protestors clearly had an opportunity to learn, too. If your safe space is in a public space during a big news event, you have to account for the shared nature of the space. You can put up “no media” signs and criticize the media. You can ask them to leave and point out their disrespectfulness. But you can’t push or threaten them.

But again: these are students! They don’t have same accountability. They’re ostensibly less mature than the adults who were present.

Two adults were present who could have turned this into a positive learning opportunity. (It’s on a damn campus.) Those two adults embarrassed themselves. They didn’t focus the argument. They fibbed and acted like children. Those adults also escalated the situation and got physical–not hard, but aggressively–with a student.

By the end, the photographer and other students had shown themselves to be more mature than the adults, who horribly embarrassed themselves.

November 10, 2015 at 2:20 pm Leave a comment

These Reporters…

This recent tweet reminded me of a sort of reductio ad absurdum attempt at satire I wrote back in 2007. Could I take the New York Times’ “this reporter” trope into a wormhole from which it was impossible to emerge? I just dug it up. Enjoy:

There were, not counting Mr. Montero, 60, and his wife, Linda, both tending bar, exactly three people there who were not in the Royal Navy, including this reporter, his old roommate Dave from Prospect-Lefferts Gardens and an older woman playing scratch-off lottery games and trying to ignore more than 50 increasingly loud British sailors.

– “The Fleet’s In: In the Harbor, and the Bar,” Michael Wilson, The New York Times, July 11, 2007

At a recent happy hour attended by several reporters from the New York Times, a reporter approached this reporter.

“Is that who I think it is?” said that reporter to this reporter, nodding her head toward a reporter over in the corner.

“I think so,” replied this reporter to that reporter about the reporter over in the corner. (more…)

April 20, 2015 at 2:54 pm Leave a comment

On Longevity

Here’s a fun thing to do the day before you turn 40: go to this Social Security website, punch in your birthdate, and see the average number of years someone your age has left. (It’s 42.1 more for me, if you must know. Not quite “mid-life.”)

These landmarks trigger an involuntary plunge into reverie and reflection. It’s times like these I remember that—as is probably the case with most people—I wouldn’t have made it this far without a couple strokes of luck. I remember sitting helpless in a passenger seat as a teenager while a friend hit 75 miles an hour down a hill, went up on two wheels on a curve and into the left side of the road, and brought the car back down with a swerve, missing an oncoming vehicle by mere feet. (more…)

February 27, 2015 at 9:22 pm Leave a comment

How Many American Schoolkids are Poor? Way Fewer Than the Washington Post Told You.

It was one of those “now, wait a minute” kind of headlines: “Majority of U.S. Public School Students are in Poverty.”

The January 16 Washington Post article by Lyndsey Layton brought needed attention to a remarkable bit of education data: for the first time ever, over half of American public school students are now receiving free or reduced-price lunch.

“The shift to a majority-poor student population,” Layton writes, “means that in public schools, a growing number of children start kindergarten already trailing their more privileged peers and rarely, if ever, catch up. They are less likely to have support at home, are less frequently exposed to enriching activities outside of school, and are more likely to drop out and never attend college.”

The problem is, it’s not true that most American public school children are poor. Free and reduced-price lunch eligibility is a frequently-used proxy for poverty in schools. But it’s not poverty. (more…)

February 9, 2015 at 11:28 pm Leave a comment

GALLERY: Easter Eggs at Kenilworth’s Christmas Train Garden

A Christmas miniature train garden at a suburban mall is the last place I expected to get a mesmerizing dose of social realism. But when my wife and I took our two-year-old to see the trains at The Shops at Kenilworth in Towson, we found (little) people being carried away on stretchers from a car accident and a house fire, a funeral (surreally juxtaposed with a backyard pool scene), someone getting arrested at a Dunkin Donuts while behind him a man slept on a bench with a newspaper for a blanket, and a man with a big backpack standing by the tracks waiting to jump a train.

There’s also winking humor: three cop cars parked at the Dunkin Donuts and, if you look closely, R2D2 among the scrap metal at the junkyard. There’s also a trailer park with a guy in a ZZ Top beard eating KFC straight out of the bucket, someone going through a trash can, a beat-up old truck with a tree growing through it, a leathered-up moustache man restraining a vicious pit bull, women in tight dresses, and a man in a wifebeater sitting in a La-Z-Boy…outside. (I don’t know if the trailer park scene was done to be inclusive or to be mocking. Given the comparative sophistication of this train garden, maybe both.)

By any standard, this is a very impressive train garden. But these touches make it extra special. I can’t wait to go back next year and see if there’s anything I missed.

Click on the first picture to launch the gallery.

December 30, 2014 at 4:15 pm Leave a comment

How Radio Taught Me to Write Short in Print

ImageHere’s how I write a 2,500-word article: I write it to 4,000 words, then cut it back.

Know how I write a 1,500-word article? The same way.

I keep ending up at 4,000, so the shorter the assignment, the more kittens I have to drown. So I was thrilled to see Roy Peter Clark—whose “Fifty Writing Tools” greased my transition from academic researcher to journalistic storyteller 10 years ago—has published a book called How to Write Short. (more…)

May 13, 2014 at 12:14 pm Leave a comment

Resources for “The Lines Between Us”

2If you attended my April 23 talk about “The Lines Between Us” at American University, or if you just want to learn more about the series, here are some resources… (more…)

April 22, 2014 at 1:50 pm Leave a comment

Older Posts

- A much prettier website with my journalistic highlights is at lawrencelanahan.com.
- Disappearing Ink released its first album, "There Is No Time and Nothing's Been," in December 2014. It's available on iTunes.
- After almost five years at WYPR, I'm back to freelancing. Editors can reach me at llanahan@gmail.com.
- The Art of Social Critique: Painting Mirrors of Social Life includes my chapter "New Possibilities and Old Limitations of Political Art in The Wire."
- You can still buy my 2004 self-titled EP.



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