CONTACT: MARY GERAGHTY
100 Old Public Library
Iowa City IA 52242
(319) 384-0011; fax (319) 384-0024
Release: Feb. 14, 2000
UI journalism students take lesson in persistence from veteran reporter
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Students in Basil Talbott's political reporting classes
got a lesson this semester in the value of tenacity for journalists. It took
four months and three seized opportunities for face-to-face interaction, but
Talbott managed to schedule Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack to speak to his students
about politics and journalism. Vilsack will meet with the class Monday, Feb.
5:45 p.m. in Room W10 Seashore Hall.
Talbott, who is in his second semester teaching at the University of Iowa
after a 35-year career as a reporter, political editor, and Washington correspondent
for the Chicago Sun-Times, stood in line at three public events for the chance
to ask Vilsack to come to Iowa City to speak to his journalism students. Each
time Vilsack said he liked the idea and told Talbott to contact his staff
to arrange the visit, but it didn't come to fruition until after the third
meeting. At that time, Vilsack not only recognized Talbott and remembered
his request, but wrote a note to remind himself to speak with his scheduler
personally about arranging the visit.
A few days later, the date was set. Talbott said his students were surprised
to learn that the governor was coming to meet with them, and that his experience
arranging the visit provided a valuable lesson in journalistic persistence.
"The journalistic lesson is that you have to figure out where you can
catch a public official, such as the governor, even though you don't have
a special invitation, and keep plugging away politely until you have a specific
commitment and nail it down," he said.
This is just one of many real-life reporting experiences Talbott will share
with his UI journalism students. They are also studying media coverage of
the Iowa Caucuses and state primaries. Talbott says he is teaching students
about a media environment that did not exist when he was a full-time political
"I covered the Iowa caucuses when it was more street reporting"
in 1980 and 1984, he said. "Now you have around the clock coverage, news
channel explosion, and the Internet has entered the picture."
Today's students need to learn the same basic reporting and writing skills
that have always been essential, but Talbott said they also must be increasingly
vigilant about sorting through a "proliferation of information"
that doesn't always adhere to journalistic standards of accuracy. In the race
to be first to report a story or a detail, many media outlets are becoming
less concerned with being right, he said.
"It seems it's no longer the task for journalists to make it accurate,"
he says. "The goal is to get it out first. There's a role for journalism
schools and professors to rein that in and bring students back to the ideal
goal of journalism of verification."
John Soloski, director of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication
says professionals like Talbott are crucial to the training of young journalists.
He says the school tries to bring in seasoned journalists each semester to
teach what he calls "value-added" courses -- classes that add depth
and breadth to the curriculum but that the full-time faculty are not equipped
"Basil is a seasoned political reporter, and we thought he would be
a great person to teach our students how to cover a presidential campaign,"
Soloski said. "Hiring visiting professors like Basil Talbott is very
important to the school because it allows us to give our students experience
dealing with professionals that goes beyond what we could give if we relied
only on regular faculty members."