Shameless graduation "naches"

graduationThe Columbia University campus where I teach is awash in graduation regalia and good feelings. Students strut about in their caps and gowns as proud parents snap photographs and listen to commencement speakers wish everyone a bright future. As we at the Journalism School send out a new crop of students into a perilous economic and journalistic climate, my mind turns to the students I've trained over the last 15 years and the pride I take in their work. It is a special kind of pride known in Yiddish as naches, which I define as the ability to look at someone's work without a hint of jealousy. It is the pride we take in the work of our children and our students. As a GR blogger, I am seeing much more of my students' work than I have in the past. My normal journalistic instincts have told me not to write about them, but then Terry introduced me to his special category: the shameless post. In other words, just be honest with the reader about your connections and all is kosher.

And so, let me just briefly highlight some of the lessons we teach here at Columbia and how I see them played out in the work of my students:

*Probably the most famous lesson about not following the journalistic pack comes from the work of Jimmy Breslin who, in 1963, let the rest of the Washington press corps cover the funeral of JFK, while he went to talk to the man who was digging the president's grave at Arlington Cemetery. In the same spirit, Manya Brachear of the Chicago Tribune broke away from President Obama's talk at Nortre Dame to cover the alternative graduation ceremony set up by pro-life students in protest. Terry has already commented on this report, but I thought I'd add words of praise both for the idea and the execution of the story. Most amazing, is that Brachear managed to cover both events, albeit with the help of a colleague who shared a byline with her on the main Obama story. Also in the Jimmy Breslin spirit, Brachear wrote a sidebar on Mario Cuomo who had his own run-in with Notre Dame over abortion in 1984.

*Another lesson that I teach is the "ritual moment." To make a religion story a religion story, I like to see something transcendent or sacred going on. In her alternate graduation story, Brachear provides this element when she has one of the the pro-life graduates "reciting the rosary and turning her tassel at a service in the Grotto, a Marian shrine at the corner of campus." In other words, there's more here than just a political protest; it is a statement of faith. On a very different topic, Matthew Hay Brown gives us a ritual moment right in the lead of his story in the Baltimore Sun:

For Yoel Benyowitz, setting aside work at sundown on Friday, lighting the shabbos candles and spending the next 24 hours in prayer and fellowship with family and friends "recharges our batteries, both physically and spiritually."

Brown's article is about an unusual demonstration by thousands of Orthodox Jews in Baltimore who want to see a Jewish Community Center remain closed on the Sabbath even as its operators consider opening it for Jews who, as one community leader put it, "have different ways of observing." Bown's ritual moment lead certainly illustrates how the Orthodox observe.

* A third lesson is to have fun doing journalism, a lesson that is especially important in these days of dire predictions about the future of our craft. For this I offer Nicole Neroulias' delightful story in RNS that begins like this:

Las Vegas may be known as "Sin City," but when it comes to transgressions per capita, parts of the Bible Belt may burn much hotter, suggests a new study by Kansas State University geographers.

The project, conducted by four graduate students in the university's department of geography, maps out "hot spots" for Christianity's seven deadly sins -- lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride.

The hot-spot data is based on federal statistics such as sexually transmitted disease rates for lust, theft rates for envy and violent crime rates for wrath.

Refreshingly, Neroulias doesn't take the study all that seriously and provides all the requisite caveats. She notes that "most experts, including the researchers themselves" see flaw in the methodology, especially "given the difficulty of findings ways to accurately quantify each of the sins."

Look for the not-so-obvious story, include a transcendant moment and have fun. No one asked me to give a commencement address, but I think I just did.

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