Sunday, May 30, 2010

A little flag-waving for our own Dr. Starr

The flags are up for Memorial Day, but I've got a different kind of celebration in mind! Since I missed the real retirement party for Texas A&M's Dr. Douglas Starr on May 21, I'm throwing a little party right here on the blog for him.

He's taught journalism at A&M since 1986, first in the Department of Journalism and then in the Department of Ag Leadership, Education and Communications. That makes 4.8 bajillion of us he's instructed. Feel free to jump in the comments and post a note or story about Dr. Starr!

He was one of the very first contributors to this blog, writing a little bit about himself and a little more about AGCJ.

KBTX recently interviewed him for its Voices of Veterans series, so you can watch the man himself talk about his experience joining the Navy at 17, in 1943. He had to wait until his 18th birthday to be sent into combat, and then "a month later, we were in the Marshalls shooting up the place." Watch Parts One and Two at KBTX.com.

He also vividly described life on an antisubmarine warship for USSNicholas.org:
Even in a calm sea, destroyer sailors eat with one hand while balancing their trays with the other, and walking is always a test of balance. Destroyer sailors develop sea legs quickly—a special roll that, ashore, singles out the destroyer sailor from among other ship crews.
In a rough sea, life takes on a new meaning as the ship rolls and pitches and leaps and falls and slings itself about like a thing alive and berserk.
Normal ship’s work is suspended because it cannot be performed. Ship’s cooks cannot prepare proper meals, producing only beans and coffee as long as the rolling and pitching continue.
Never one to shy away from expressing opinion, he was recently interviewed in a series on the "Future of Journalism," and the true Dr. Starr touch is apparent:

What do you think of the idea being bandied about that governments as a last resort should bail out failing newspapers?
DPS: It's a terrible idea, and it is against the Constitution. The First Amendment in the Bill of Rights states: "Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech or of the press."


You have 45 years of experience in journalism and teaching it. From your experience and vantage point, is there anything newspapers can do that they're not doing to improve their chances of surviving? (Editor's note: Prof. Starr crossed out the "45" in his reply and typed in "57 years, 1952-2009.")
DPS: Attract young readers of news by focusing on their age group. Ask young people what kind of news they want and add that to the mix.
Return to the time-honored requirements of reporting. Use the inverted pyramid approach to writing news, giving readers the whole story in the first one or two sentences, because most readers do not read through any news story. Use simple English and simple sentences and proper punctuation and grammar.
Reduce the length of international and national stories by cutting unnecessary detail that people don't read.
Ensure that reporters report accurately and objectively, without opinion and conjecture, except in analyses and columns.
Ensure that analyses and columns draw conclusions based upon stated fact.
Publish more local news, news of what's going on in the newspaper's geographic jurisdiction.

You have said that every time a paper fails, all of us lose a little bit of freedom and people don't realize that. With the prospect now that many newspapers across America are on the brink of bankruptcy, what do you think the effect will be on our society if they don't make it?
DPS: The United States as we know it will disappear; it will no longer be a nation of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. One by one, all of our freedoms will disappear; the Bill of Rights, of freedoms, will be meaningless because there will be no freedom of speech or of the press. Without a free press, there will be no one to keep an eye on the government and to tell the people what the government is doing and is planning to do.

"Every time a paper fails, all of us lose a little bit of freedom," eh? I might just have to make a shirt out of that.

In any case, here is a big hearty WHOOP for Dr. Douglas Perret Starr, and for all our veterans. Former students of Dr. Starr, you can still connect with him on Facebook! And if you get a chance to catch up with him in person, a little birdie told me he likes sugar cookies.