A round-up of news from the SCU campus.
Honoring the legacy of the martyrs in El Salvador
From also-ran to All-American
Raising the roof
Thirteen medals for SCU pubs
Top teaching scholars
Spirit of philanthropy
One thing leads to the next
Saving the world one innovation at a time
Citation visualization sensation
Bricks and mortar
Bad journalism 101
Honoring the legacy of the martyrs in El Salvador
Embracing a new academic year—and the Jesuit School of Theology
On the evening of Nov. 5, Jon Sobrino, S.J., stood before an audience in the Mission Church and said it felt like coming home. For the Jesuit priest from El Salvador, in a very real sense, it was. For it was 20 years ago that Sobrino was offered refuge at Santa Clara—in the wake of the killings of his fellow Jesuits, along with their housekeeper and her daughter, at the University of Central America in El Salvador.
Fr. Sobrino was back on the Mission campus as part of the University’s commemoration of the murders in El Salvador. That tragedy continues to shape profoundly ideas about social justice from Central America to the Santa Clara Valley and around the world. During Fr. Sobrino’s visit last fall, he participated in a faculty colloquium on the role of a Jesuit university and delivered a lecture as part of the President’s Speaker Series. Prior to the lecture, SCU President Michael Engh, S.J., presented Sobrino with the Santa Clara Award, the University’s highest honor, bestowed to those who have distinguished themselves in the service of Jesuit education.
Instituted in 1977, the Santa Clara Award was first presented to Bing Crosby. Over the years, recipients have included legendary actress Helen Hayes, Mother Teresa, and the Jesuit martyrs in El Salvador.
In his lecture, Sobrino spoke about the lessons that martyrs around the globe offer—both those who actively choose adversity, knowing its risks, and those who became martyrs unwillingly. In 1989, when the military death squad came for the Jesuits at the University of Central America, Sobrino was doing social work in Thailand and thus escaped murder.
“On my way back to El Salvador, I was scheduled to change planes in San Francisco,” Sobrino recalled. When he arrived at the airport, he was met by Steve Privett, S.J., then-director of SCU’s Institute on Human Rights and Social Justice, and Peggy O’Grady, who had led delegations to El Salvador as part of her job with the Central American Refugee Organizing Project. “They both looked astounded,” Sobrino said. “Meanwhile out on the San Francisco streets, Paul Locatelli, loudspeaker in hand, was condemning the murders.”
Then-president Locatelli offered Sobrino shelter at Santa Clara, where he stayed for several weeks. “When I got here, I found that eight crosses had been set in the ground in front of the church,” Sobrino said. “When somebody pulled them out, Paul Locatelli put them back immediately. I’ll never forget that.”
Since 1989, the University has commemorated the martyrs’ deaths annually with a special Mass at the Mission Church. In recognition of the significance of the 20th anniversary last November, the commemoration was extended to five days.
“Universities like ours have to answer to a world of poverty and ignominy, a world where there’s so much oppression and repression,” Sobrino told the SCU community. He asserted that a university needs to make sure that the poor “who can’t take life for granted—have life” and are defended against oppression. That is the mission that the six assassinated Jesuit priests had undertaken in El Salvador, he said.
The role of a Jesuit university
The Nov. 4 colloquium, moderated by President Engh, focused on Santa Clara’s status as a Jesuit university in contemporary times. Matthew Ashley, associate professor of systematic theology at the University of Notre Dame, delivered the keynote address. Along with Fr. Sobrino, faculty panelists were Kevin Burke, S.J., executive dean of the Jesuit School of Theology at Santa Clara University; Robert Lassalle-Klein ’74, chair of pastoral ministries at Holy Names University; and Kristin Heyer, associate professor in SCU’s Department of Religious Studies.
Fr. Burke pointed out that SCU is “more Jesuit and more Catholic precisely in also being more secular and more fully inter-religious.” He added that commitment to justice cannot be seen as something extra. “It is of the essence. If it isn’t there, we are not a university, period,” he said.
The colloquium stressed the role of the university, especially a Jesuit one like Santa Clara, in cultivating socially responsible, conscientious citizens who can be advocates of peace in an increasingly defragmented, consumerist, and corrupt world.
“The martyrs make us confront ourselves without evasions,” said Sobrino. “They also shed light on the biggest issues in our world, and on what we have to do about them.”
From also-ran to All-American
Cross-country star Stephanie Wilson ’11 earns a spot in the annals of Bronco Athletics.
Once she turned into the race’s final 500 meters, junior Stephanie Wilson tried to keep her eyes on the giant American flag waving over the finish line—the best way to keep a straight course down the stretch. But with her body screaming, and some of the country’s fastest collegiate runners bearing down, the flag seemed unbearably distant. Wilson told herself to keep calm, breaking down the final moments of the NCAA Cross-Country Championships into tiny pieces.
“I need to run the next 20 yards, to the next line, to this part,” she remembers telling herself. “It was intense.”
And like everything in Wilson’s season, it was stunningly effective. She crossed the finish line of the LaVern Gibson Championship Cross-Country Course in 28th place, the fastest runner from any school in California. Her time easily secured her status as a crosscountry All-American—the first Bronco ever to do so.
“I am still a little bit shocked at how far I’ve come,” she says. “I just made a decision I was never going to give up.”
Nobody would have predicted such success even a few months prior. Her own family blissfully scheduled her nephew’s baptism for the day before the race, never thinking Wilson would be in Terre Haute, Ind., preparing to become the first Bronco runner to run nationals in cross-country.
But Wilson’s entire collegiate cross-country career has been one surprise on top of another. A middling high school runner, Wilson only returned to the sport after falling short of her dream of playing college soccer. And even then, she tried out for rowing first.
Certainly Cross-Country Coach Tom Service had few expectations when Wilson arrived her sophomore year after transferring from the University of California, Davis. Of his 18 runners, she ranked 14th on the depth chart. Wilson, though, quickly established herself as a glutton for training, taking on more and more miles as she ran crosscountry in the fall and track in the spring. In high school, soccer took priority. Now running did. The results showed.
“Her improvement curve was so fast, it started almost becoming hard to track,” Service says.
Indeed, her first season with the cross-country team, Wilson wasn’t good enough to even participate in the West Coast Conference Championship. Two years later, she became the first Santa Clara runner to win it.
While her physical strengths have clearly carried Wilson far, Service says her mental focus has been essential. Many runners in her situation would psych themselves out against such elite competition. Wilson seems immune from it, he says.
With one more season to run, Wilson aims to return to nationals this fall—with company, she hopes. The program brings back many of its best runners, including Robbie Reid ’11. The junior finished second at the 2009 WCC championships, the best ever finish for a male SCU runner.
Their accomplishments follow other recent fanfare for the program. In 2008, cross-country captain Noelle Lopez ’09 was named the second Rhodes Scholar in Santa Clara history. The success on and off the race course will only add to the team’s drawing power, Service says: “I don’t know what better statement we can make than we have had a Rhodes Scholar one year and an All-American the next.”
Wilson stars in track as well as cross-country—and she excels in aspects of life that require no running shoes. Her 3.87 grade point average recently helped the English major win one of the English Department’s two Canterbury Scholarships, which provide grants that fund extended research projects. She’s minoring in philosophy—and is planning a literary trail guide for the Bay Area, which she hopes to publish next year. She has already started a blog about the project on the internet home of Berkeley-based Heyday Books.
On top of that, readers of SCM might recognize Wilson from a profile in the Summer 2009 issue, highlighting her volunteer work on behalf of Second Harvest Food Bank. As a junior, Wilson interned with SCU’s Campus Ministry and organized a fall food drive that netted 3,500 pounds of food and $700 in cash. Together the bounty created more than 4,000 meals for Bay Area needy. In recognition of her efforts, she was made the first recipient of the Second Harvest Food Bank Outstanding Youth Award.
Sam Scott ’96
Raising the roof
Solar arrays for Leavey and Malley, plus an award from the EPA
All was not quiet on the Mission campus over Christmas break. There was the clatter of construction on a few rooftops, as SCU installed solar panels atop the Leavey Center and Pat Malley Fitness and Recreation Center. The third level of the parking structure also received a new solar panel sunshade.
The panels, which are scheduled to be operational in April, are expected to generate 1 megawatt of power, which will satisfy about 6 percent of SCU’s electrical energy needs throughout the year, according to Joe Sugg, assistant vice president of University Operations. The panels should also support about 20 percent of summer daytime demand.
The new solar installations are just one of many recent projects the University is undertaking to address climate change. For efforts already undertaken as of 2009, SCU was recognized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last fall as one of the top universities to reduce its carbon footprint. The EPA ranked Santa Clara No. 16 on the Top 20 College & University List of green power purchasers.
Santa Clara committed to doubling its green power purchase to nearly 23 million kilowatt-hours (kWh), which represents 74 percent of the school’s electricity use. That’s enough to power 2,529 average American homes and is equivalent to taking nearly 3,000 cars off the road for one year. The purchase will be supplied from Green-e Energy certified renewable energy certificates sourced from wind farms around the country.
Thirteen medals for SCU pubs
All that glitters isn’t gold; there’s silver and bronze, too, at least where medals for Santa Clara University publications are concerned—and lots to go around in 2009. On the national level, veteran SCU Photographer Charles Barry was honored by the prestigious University and College Design Association with a silver medal for his photograph “The ideal pub,” which appeared in the Summer 2009 Santa Clara Magazine.
On the regional level, a dozen medals were awarded to SCU publications by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) at a ceremony in San Francisco in November. Our team at SCM brought home 10 medals in six categories and won all three medals for editorial design. In addition, the 2007–2008 Santa Clara University President’s Report, “How We Learn,” and Santa Clara Law Magazine each earned bronze medals for overall excellence from CASE.
The 12 awards from CASE’s District VII make SCU one of the most-lauded universities in the region, which includes more than 100 colleges and universities from Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, and Utah. SCM earned more medals than any other periodical.
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Top teaching scholars
The University inaugurated the academic year by honoring outstanding achievements at the annual Faculty Recognition Dinner in September.
Recent Achievement in Scholarship
A driving force behind SCU’s Environmental Studies Institute, Associate Professor of Environmental Studies and Biology Michelle Marvier has published 19 articles in the past five years, including four in the premier journal Science. Her research in ecological risk assessment and conservation biology has offered valuable contributions to the discourse surrounding issues of environmental policy. She engages students by connecting biological data to relevant social policy issues and has offered them opportunities to collaborate on many of her own publications.
Sustained Excellence in Scholarship
Professor Sam Hernández of the Art and Art History Department has shown his work in more than two dozen solo exhibitions across the United States, France, and Spain, and in hundreds of group exhibitions. Serving the Santa Clara faculty since 1977, he has been the recipient of numerousawards and fellowships, including a Fulbright Scholar Artist-in-Residence in Macedonia and a National Endowment for the Arts Visual Artist Fellowship. (See page 9 for a profile of Hernández.)
The Louis and Dorina Brutocao Award for Teaching Excellence
Professor of Philosophy William Prior puts a premium on mentoring students to “live the examined life.” He teaches ancient philosophy, ethical theory, and history of skepticism. The award he received—Santa Clara’s highest teaching honor—is based on nominations by students and faculty members who believe their professor or colleague has made an active difference in students’ lives.
Prior was nominated by many notable students, including the class of 2009’s valedictorian and the recipients of both the St. Clare Medal and the Kolvenbach Award.
Inclusive Excellence Award
This award was established in 2008 and is given to a faculty or staff member who has demonstrated dedication to building inclusive excellence in the community. This year’s recipient is Gerdenio (Sonny) Manuel, S.J., associate professor of psychology and rector of the Jesuit Community at Santa Clara. He co-founded the Eastside Project, whichlater became Arrupe Partnerships, the University’s community-based learning curriculum. He reached out to undocumented students by founding the Hurtado Scholars program, and he was the founding director of the Office of Multicultural Learning. In his research, Manuel studies the relationship between psychology, faith, and religious life. In spring 2009, he was named prefect of studies and provincial assistant for higher education for the California Province of the Society of Jesus. In that capacity, he is also assisting California Provincial John P. McGarry, S.J., with fostering collaboration between Jesuit work in higher education and in other communities.
Spirit of philanthropy
New scholarship created by SCU English professor
When Roseanne Giannini Quinnhired lawyer John Riccio to represent her following a tangle in a minor car accident, the SCU teacher never imagined that in just 10 years’ time she’d have started an academic scholarship in his memory. But in January 2009 Quinn did just that. The first award was made in September.
The annual John C. Riccio Scholarship provides financial aid to an incoming freshman with Italian-American ancestry, with preference given to a student living in the da Vinci Residential Learning Community. Giannini Quinn hopes the scholarship will bestow the values of service and social justice, especially for people who are vulnerable in the community. The SCU professor will donate $500 each year to the fund.
Giannini Quinn and Riccio developed a friendship soon after their first encounter a decade ago. Their collective Italian heritage and their deep valuation of a Jesuit education kept the pair bonded. Then, in 2004, the professor suffered severe injuries, including postconcussion syndrome, when a balcony gave way beneath her. The well-known Bay Area lawyer played an integral part in Giannini Quinn’s legal assistance, medical care, and recovery.
So when Riccio passed away in November 2008, Giannini Quinn felt compelled to pay tribute to him in a profound way. Riccio had created a scholarship for Bay Area children enrolled in Italian-language classes—an act of philanthropy that Giannini Quinn had long admired. So she created the John C. Riccio Scholarship in the same spirit.
“It’s very important to me to celebrate and preserve our heritage,” says Giannini Quinn. “In the Bay Area, we’re now moving to third and fourth generations of Italian-Americans, and we’re losing knowledge of language and culture.” Here at SCU, Giannini Quinn has incorporated her ancestral background into many classes, and much of her own academic study is on Italian-American literature.
Those interested in donating to the John C. Riccio Scholarship should contact Cynthia Graebe in the SCU development office at 408-554-4400, or visit www.scu.edu/give.
One thing leads to the next
The aesthetic of sculptor Sam Hernández
For a recent series of sculptures, Professor of Art Sam Hernández starts with Thonet struts—elegantly curved pieces of wood salvaged from dismantled Austrian café chairs built in the 1800s—and screws them back together to fashion mesmerizing, delicately twisted shapes that thrust skyward. Spiked with the knobs that appear like the thorns of blackberry canes, it’s as if the wood has been touched by the spark of life and begun dancing. Though in describing the process of creating this bricolage, Hernández is a bit more prosaic. “I start composing with the lines. I cut them, then I segment them,” he says. “Then I look at the pile of lines and start assembling them. One thing leads to the next, leads to the next.”
A native of Hayward, Calif., Hernández has earned international acclaim for his work during the past three-plus decades. He was also recently honored by SCU for sustained excellence in scholarship (see article here).
“I’m Spanish,” he says, “but I’m a New World guy.” How does that play out in his art? He transforms bits and pieces of varying cultural influences, crossing themes unexpectedly, to create an aesthetic that riffs on influences from Cuba, Mexico, and various parts of Africa and Latin America, as well as from Native American tribes. Throw in some Dada, surrealism, organic tradition, and hot rods, then let intuition and stream of consciousness guide the vision. But to say art is only a creature of whimsy and nuance is to sell short the technical skill that goes into it. Hernández offers the analogy of an accomplished jazz musician. “Anybody can beat on a drum. But you get tones, you get different sounds, from the drum—by pulling it, by beating it on the end, or how you tap it.”
Catalonian pots and Japanese saws
Most of the year, Hernández is based out of his studio in Aptos. Summer might find him in Catalonia, Spain, where he works with artisans known as tinajeros creating large ceramic pieces. The artists take their name from the large vessels they make—tinajas—which date back to the ancient Greeks and Romans and were once used to store wine and water. Hernández visits their workshops, learns their techniques, and then makes it his own. “It’s been a great cultural exchange,” he says. “I’m adapting it to my imagery without losing the form they have.”
A mark of Hernández’s work is his proficiency with a variety of tools from around the world. “I apply whatever tool I need for whatever job needs to be done,” he says. After studying Japanese joinery, he began employing special Japanese saws for their accuracy and finesse. “Instead of pulling forward, the saws pull back, giving the user more control and efficiency, and allowing the piece to be cut exactly.”
In the classroom, Hernández exposes his students to cultural investigations, taking trips to museums, showing films, or having them work with one another. Drawing on these experiences, students generate their own art. “Take it in through your eyes and your ears, and it becomes an experience that you normally wouldn’t have,” he says. “You’ve got to find your passion.”
That last truism is also the advice that Hernández offers when he’s asked about how to survive as an artist. “The people I knew who spent the whole time figuring out how they were going to make it,” he observes, “ended up doing something else.”
Folks in New York City can take a look at some of Hernández’s recent work, as part of an exhibition currently running at the National Academy Museum and School of Fine Arts. The show is open through June 8.
Katie Powers ’09
Saving the world one innovation at a time
Tech Awards honor projects designed to benefit humanity. And a conference at SCU helps Tech laureates put their heads together to tackle shared challenges.
Global warming threatens us with ever more powerful storms, creeping desertification, and the deadly spread of tropical diseases, former Vice President Al Gore told the guests at the annual Tech Awards on Nov. 19. But in the big picture, he assured, our planet is going to be just fine. “The real risk is for human beings,” he deadpanned.
The remark drew laughter from the crowd of 1,500 gathered at the San Jose McEnery Convention Center. In 2007 Gore and a team of IPCC scientists received the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of their environmental advocacy. At the Tech Awards he was honored with the 2009 James C. Morgan Global Humanitarian Award. Gore used his acceptance speech to call the audience to action. Future generations will either despair that their predecessors were too busy “Dancing with the Stars” to tackle global warming, or they will marvel how we found the energy to make the difficult changes, he said.
The critical conscience
The Tech Awards were founded in 2001 through a partnership among Santa Clara University, San Jose’s Tech Museum of Innovation, and Applied Materials Inc. to honor people who step up in crisis. This year Santa Clara faculty helped winnow down 650 nominations from more than 60 countries to 15 winners in five categories: environment, economic development, education, equality, and health.
“We’re aiming to promote the just and the common good for all,” SCU President Michael Engh, S.J., told the crowd. “The University should be the critical conscience of society.”
The laureates came from across the globe, and their projects embodied a combination of technical ingenuity and dogged pursuit of a better way. Canadian Howard Weinstein, for example, was just another businessman when the pain of his young daughter’s death started him on a path that has taken him to Botswana, Brazil, and Israel and the West Bank. His company, Solar Ear, hires deaf workers to build solar-powered hearing aids that cost a fraction of others on the market. In doing so, the company also provides jobs to deaf workers who had been seen in their communities as unemployable.
In each of the five categories, one laureate received a $50,000 prize. Winners included the Cows to Kilowatts program in Nigeria, which converts the waste stream from slaughterhouses into electricity; Ultra Rice PATH, which uses fortified rice flour to bolster the nutritional value of rice in India, Brazil, and Colombia; and the Fair Wage Guide, software that helps craft makers around the world determine fair wages in local context for their labors.
Change that counts
The day after the awards, the Tech Laureates visited the Mission campus to take part in “Change that Counts: Building Sustainable Social Business,” a conference focused on a key challenge for many social entrepreneurs: How do you convey a product’s value to investors accustomed to measuring success merely in financial profits?
The laureates were joined by predecessors like Matt Flannery, the founder of Kiva, a 2007 Tech Awards winner that has made more than $90 million in micro-loans worldwide, and by major lenders to social entrepreneurs, including the Draper Richards Foundation.
Sam Scott ’96
Citation visualization sensation
PaperCube is airborne—offering scholars a whole new way of looking at their work.
Perusing digital libraries for scholarly articles may not be the first activity you’d liken to flying a helicopter. But then you’ve probably not seen PaperCube—the brainchild of Peter Bergström M.S. ’09.
A software developer at Apple, Bergstrom worked evenings and weekends on his master’s in computer engineering at Santa Clara. The culmination of his efforts was PaperCube, an experimental digital library browser that lets users soar above searches to see the weave of references, citations, and collaborations that connect scholars and their papers.
In a typical scholarly library search, you get a quick synopsis of a paper’s subject and a list of links to its references—basically a backward-looking snapshot of the authors’ research, readings, and inspirations.
PaperCube can fly much higher, showing not only a paper’s references but those papers’ references and so on, up to 15 layers deep. It also jumps forward displaying how the paper was cited in later generations of works.
The difference is like going from the runway to air, Bergström says. Users can see which papers carry the most influence, then swoop down to read them. They can also see intellectual cliques, mapping how often authors collaborate, cite, or reference each other.
The browser’s intuitive circle maps also lend themselves to illustrating other forms of interconnectedness, such as how different websites link to one another.
The open-source program was released for free in November.
Sam Scott ’96Try out PaperCube here.
Bricks and mortar
Designing buildings that will last for villages in Ghana
In two villages in northern Ghana, there’s no mistaking the recent handiwork of four SCU civil engineering students. Just look for the arches.
That architectural feature is virtually unseen in the region’s boxy mud-brick buildings. But the students put it at the heart of their plans for a pair of structures to benefit the villages. By arching the doors, windows, and roofs, they devised buildings able to stand strong without costly lumber framing or metallic roofing. Just as important, their designs use clay-and-cement bricks much better suited to the area’s withering monsoons than traditional mud blocks.
The four seniors—Laura Skinner, Brie Rust, Spencer Ambauen, and Erica Fieger—spent a month during Christmas break overseeing construction of the buildings: one a new library in Gambibigo, the other an onion-storage shed in Zebilla. They were following in the footsteps of three more students—Betsy Leaverton ’09, Jessica Long ’09, and Julianne Padgett ’09—who developed the recipe for the sturdy, but affordable, bricks for a similar project last year. Their shed prompted some Ghanaians to travel from as far as six hours away to see the wonder of an arched roof.
Advised by engineering professors Mark Aschheim and Sukhmander Singh, this year’s crew used the same ingredients but greatly increased the size of the plans. The 800-square-foot layout used for both buildings features a double-arch roof that rises from the ground to meet in the middle, like a McDonald’s sign. The students spent long, dusty hours with local laborers and masons, bringing design know-how to meet with the Ghanaians’ construction expertise.
The trip was clearly an adventure. Fieger says some people stateside questioned why they didn’t choose senior design projects more geared to the job market. A couple reasons: They wanted to see their design built, and they relished the chance to help others.
The onion-storage shed will give farmers a cool, dry place to keep crops until after harvest, when scarcer supplies drive prices up tenfold. The project also uses designs and materials that the villagers can replicate at a minimal cost, applying their usual selection of hand tools.
Indeed there was no doubting the villagers’ involvement. The project included a budget to pay a small group of workers, but often double that number would show up, working for free.
When the SCU students headed back to the United States, the library was 75 percent complete and the onion-storage shed about 50 percent done, with local workers continuing construction. The students are eager for updates, looking for ways to send books to the library and talking about one day returning.
Sam Scott ’96
VP for University Relations to step down
After 13 years of successfully leading Santa Clara University’s fundraising and external relations efforts, Jim Purcell, vice president for University Relations, plans to step down from his post later this year. “While it is always hard to leave, I believe this is the proper time for me to transition into a new position,” said Purcell, 69. He will act as a part-time consultant focusing on external strategic affairs for the University, once a successor has been named. Plans are for a new vice president to be in place by mid-2010.
Under Purcell’s leadership, the University saw its endowment more than double, its campus transformed by six major capital projects, alumni engagement strengthened and improved, and its media presence enhanced. Purcell also led a successful multiyear capital campaign, raising $404 million that far exceeded the $350 million goal. He introduced the President’s Speaker Series, drawing worldrenowned speakers to campus, including Jane Goodall, Michael Eric Dyson, Khaled Hosseini ’88, and in fall 2009, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano ’79.
“He has been a successful leader, administrator, and spokesperson in advancing the goals of the University in countless ways,” said President Michael Engh, S.J. “My best wishes and congratulations go out to Jim for the next phase of his professional career.”
Bad journalism 101
What’s the news? And do you know it when you see it?
We know the news cycle never ends. We know that the Internet has birthed a panoply of newsy blogs and opinionated narrative, and that folks consume it all with abandon. But as we gobble the latest on the incidents and accidents that pass for news, one of the casualties may well be the expectations we need to have of journalists.
Sally Lehrman has taught in SCU’s communication department since 2008. She holds the Knight Ridder/San Jose Mercury News Chair for Journalism in the Public Interest. “The public needs to figure out what is really newsworthy,” she says. She observes that there is news, there is information, and there is entertainment—and they are all different animals. “We need to be able to understand the difference and value it.”
For one week this past October, students in Lehrman’s introductory journalism class learned how to identify and analyze bad journalism. The students were required to write two reviews per week for NewsTrust, a nonprofit group dedicated to helping people become more discriminating news consumers. The site, NewsTrust.net, has a mix of citizens and journalists who rate the quality of news, based on its faithfulness to some good old-fashioned journalistic standards: facts, fairness, sourcing, and context.
The week-long exercise was a real eye-opener for students. “Before, I’d read a story that had many quotes and think it was a well-written, well-sourced story,” says Brandon Jones ’10. “But now I look if all the quotes are from people expressing the same idea. I question if I am even getting the other side of the story.”
What’s the score?
As students dissected mainstream news reports, opinions from bloggers and columnists, and cable news shows colored by various hues on the political spectrum, the students highlighted stories that failed to meet the litmus test of credibility. One of the most biased news reports that week was “Tricky O’s ‘doctored’ photo” from the New York Post. The story decried a group of physicians whom President Obama invited to the White House in a show of their support for health-care reform. The story quoted two Republican opponents of reform but didn’t seek comments from the doctors or the reported “thousands” in the medical community who oppose reform. “The author makes many claims that are not backed up with evidence,” assessed Danielle S. Scharf ’10. Overall, she gave the story a grade of 1.7 out of 5—or “poor.”
“Healthcare has rationing in abundance” from the Los Angeles Times got an “average” rating from Morgan Doherty ’11. The reason: poor structure that made the article difficult to follow. With such a complex and hotly debated subject, Doherty wrote, “It is important for journalists to understand that they need to paint an extremely clear picture.”
Lehrman notes that her students went from simply saying, “This is interesting” to asking “Is it trustworthy? Why is it touted as a news story when it’s really an opinion piece? How do we know this is accurate?”
By posting their comments on NewsTrust, the students engaged in conversations with other reviewers. “It’s like being in an online public square with an informed citizenry engaged in a democratic exchange,” Lehrman says. She also surmises that, by coming at the news with a more thoughtful, critical eye, the students will be better consumers of the news—and, perhaps, the kind of journalists-in-training who will carry the profession into the next decade and beyond.