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The Last Windrow: The good and the bad

An experience with a college journalism professor.

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"Don't bring me any good news. Nobody reads it."

Those were words from my college journalism professor one cold winter day. He was a crusty guy who for some reason came back to the plains of South Dakota to teach journalism to a bunch of people like me who showed an interest in the profession. He had previously worked at the New York Times as a beat reporter. He saw the good, bad and ugly parts of society, but he believed that "bad and ugly" drew the most interest from newspaper readers.

I thought I was somewhat proficient in writing. I had received straight A's in my high school English classes. My teacher suggested that I look into the field of journalism if I ever got to college. Well, here I was sitting with this bald-headed guy who wore a three-day-old beard telling me not to bring him any good news. He wanted me to stir up some controversy or at least some reader interest.

He continued, "I hear that the dairy department at the college has come up with some new way of using cow's milk to fight cancer. I want you to go over and find the guy in charge of that project and do a news article for the college paper on that project." I could tell by the sound of his voice that he knew this was a "reach", but off I went.

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I found the guy responsible for the new, innovative project sitting alone in his paper littered office. I knocked on his door and he kindly waved me in. "What can I do for you?" he said. "I'm here to do a news article about the new project you are working on doing with the use of cow's milk in the field of cancer research." I stated. He looked surprised that I somehow knew about his project. "Well, I can tell you that we are working on something in that field, but I can't tell you anymore about it." he replied. "I'd be in trouble with those who are supplying the funds to do this project if I did." he said nervously.

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I seemed to have hit a dead end. "Well, at least can I report that such a project is being worked on here?" I asked. "That's about all you can say." he said. "I really can't tell you any more about it." I could see the professor was nervous about saying anything more and I thanked him for his time and left the office with a defeated feeling.

The news article I turned in for a grade was a piece of pablum and I knew it. So did my crusty journalism professor. At least he gave me a C+ for trying. I knew that all the time he knew that I wasn't going to get much information, but me doing the exercise was worth it. I did get a couple of lines of copy in the newsletter which were not very sensational.

I still remember that journalism professor's opening statement, "Don't bring me any good news. Nobody reads it. Put a bad news column beside a good news column and I'll tell you which the reader will read first." he said. I've found that to be mostly true over the years. Some attempts have been made to create a good-news-only newspaper or media show. Those tended to fail in the end. For some strange reason we humans are attracted to negative or sensational news. It's just the way we are.

But, I've decided that as I write these columns in the coming year, I'm not going to dissolve in the cesspool of all bad news. So, I probably wouldn't garner an A+ from my old professor, but at least I'll be able to sleep at night. I don't think he did.

See you next time! And, Happy New Year! Okay?

John Wetrosky
John Wetrosky (2022)

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