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The write side of history

Episode 3: Stephanie Steinberg & Al Guskin — “History of the Michigan Daily, Origins of the Peace Corps, & more”

Welcome to Episode three of “Listen in, Michigan”. I’m Deborah Holdship, the editor of Michigan Today.

In this episode of the podcast, I have a conversation with Stephanie Steinberg. She’s an editor at US News and World Report in Washington DC. In 2011, she was the editor in chief at the Michigan Daily. Stephanie was just back in town recently for a reunion of Michigan Daily alumni who came back to Ann Arbor to celebrate the paper’s 125th anniversary. In anticipation of that anniversary, about two years ago, Stephanie began compiling a number of essays from Michigan Daily alumni recounting their experiences at the student newspaper. She’s put those essays together into a book titled In the Name of Editorial Freedom: 125 years at the Michigan Daily. It’s a great overview of contemporary American culture and history through the wide eyes of a college journalist. It’s really just a great read. It covers everything from the Civil Rights Era through 9-11 and beyond. I highly recommend it. The Michigan Daily plays into my next story as well. I have a conversation with Al Guskin, PhD in 1968. He’s the president emeritus of Antioch University. When he was just 23 years old in October 1960, when then Senator John F Kennedy visited the University and encourage students from the steps of the Michigan Union to dedicate their lives to service and travel the world as part of what would then become the Peace Corps, Al took up the charge, and the rest is history. I also have a quick chat with my colleague Mike Wood, videographer here at Michigan News. Mike was on the scene several weeks ago when a local farmer close to the University discovered a major find under the ground on his farm. So let’s go to Stephanie. We’re going to start with a conversation about Jay Cassidy. He was a photographer at the Michigan Daily in the late sixties and took a ton of really significant photos: student unrest, images from the Democratic National Convention. Some really amazing historical pictures. And Jay has since gone on to become an award winning film editor. He’s worked on movies like American Hustle and Silver Linings Playbook. And he’s done a lot of work with Sean Penn as well. So let’s hear from Stephanie about how she discovered the significance of Jay Cassidy in the course of making her book.

Stephanie Steinberg: I met Jay actually through Dan Okrent who is another contributor to the book. He was the first public editor of the New York Times, and Dan covered the 1968 Democratic Convention. And he traveled with a bunch of Daily photographers and reporters to Chicago to cover it. And so he had a photo of covering the convention that I wanted to use in his story, and that photo was taken by Jay. Well at the time, I didn’t know who Jay was, so I just sent a random email along and asked, you know, “I’m working on this book. Would you mind if I use your photo?” and Jay responded, “Of course.” And for whatever reason, I decided to just Google Jay’s name to see what else perhaps he’s contributed to over the years. And his IMDB page pops up and lo and behold, Jay is this Oscar-nominated editor. So I thought, “Gosh, it would be great to have a story from Jay in the book.” And I just asked, “Would you be willing to share something from your time working at The Daily?” and he was really gracious and said, “Absolutely, I’ll send you something.” A few weeks went by, and an email from him landed in my inbox, and I opened it up. He dropped a story in there and a few photos. So I opened up these photos. They are black and white images of Robert F Kennedy campaigning in Detroit about three weeks before he was assassinated. And these photos had never been printed and the Daily before, or anywhere else for that matter. So Jay wrote about his experience covering RFK, and the entire era and what it was like to be a photographer during that time. And he has a collection of about 4 thousand photos that he took while at the Daily. So he donated all those photos to the Bentley.

Holdship: One of the other great stories, another photographer story, Andy Sacks. His assignment was to go cover a sit-in which sounded boring; “What are you going to take pictures of, people sitting?” Talk a little bit about what happened with Andy.

Steinberg: Yeah, so this is October, 1965 and it’s during the Vietnam War. That night that Andy was sent on this assignment, it was actually during homecoming. So all of the senior photographers were sent to go cover that. He sort of got this lowly assignment, or so they thought. Well, he ended up getting there and there were dozens of students and other people from the Ann Arbor community who were sitting in the Selective Service Office protesting the draft. This was on a Friday, so the office wanted a close up over the weekend, but they didn’t want to keep all those people in there. So they ended up calling in the authorities, and they ended up carrying the protesters out down the stairs one by one, and here Andy is with his camera. And he is capturing all of this at one point, he goes across history and climbs up a pole, and gets an aerial shot of what’s happening below. And I think 39 of the protesters were arrested that night.

Holdship: Sarah Krulwich changed history when she became the first female photographer “allowed” on the field at Michigan Stadium. So talk a little bit about Sarah’s story. She went on to be a really accomplished photo journalist at the New York Times for many years.

Steinberg: She did, and she still works there today and photographs Broadway plays and a lot of arts events. But Sarah got her start actually at Michigan. This was 1969, and at that time, the year before actually, all the press passes said “No women, children, or dogs allowed on the Big House.” The following year, in 1969, they changed the press passes to say, “No women or children allowed.” Dogs were now okay because there was an act where a dog would try and kick a football through the goalposts, or not kick, but you know, hit it through it. So Sarah she was a pioneer. And she was with, actually Andy Sacks, who we were just talking about. At the time, he was working for UPI and shooting the game. And Andy saw her and said, “Sarah come with me. Let’s go try and get you to cover in this game on the field.” And I should tell you also, this is Bo Schembechler’s first game in the Big House. So, and this is September 1969, and they go down to the field level and encounter a few security guards. Sarah tells a story that they approached her and said, “You know you can’t be on the field. Can’t you read? You press pass says ‘No women.’” And she said, “Well, of course I can read, but I got permission from the Sports Information Director that it was okay. That was nothing that he gave her permission to do. But at that point the guards couldn’t really do anything because everyone above them can see them. There’s 70 thousand people in the stands and if they started to cause a ruckus, everyone would have seen below while that’s going on. So she and Andy kneel down and just started shooting. And she became the first female photographer on the Big House field.

Holdship: And what was the deal, wasn’t her birthday too?

Steinberg: It was her birthday and she decided, “I’m going to risk being arrested on my nineteenth birthday in front of 100 thousand people, and she ended up changing history.

Holdship: Well as for teenagers running a newspaper there are plenty of hijinx that take place as well. So one of my other favorite stories, and I guess it’s not one to be super proud of, but in pop culture history, we can be proud of it. The editor Leslie Wayne was doing the entertainment section. She left town for a couple of days and gave an assignment to her people and her writers didn’t necessarily follow her directions, so tell me a little bit about how they changed history as well.

Steinberg: So as you said Leslie took the night off; she was the arts editor. And she gave a bunch of copy to Fred Labohr and his buddy John Gray. They did not take the copy and edit it and put it in the paper as they were supposed to. Instead, Fred had listened to a radio newscast, I guess from the night before, that was talking about some conspiracy theories regarding Paul McCartney and whether or not Paul is actually dead and I guess Fred just found that so amusing and took those conspiracies and embellished them in a very made-up story that he decided to instead print on page two of the Michigan Daily and that story basically said “Paul McCartney is dead. New evidence brought to light” said the headline. He included all these references to the fact that Paul had actually died three years earlier in a car crash. And there’s all these clues sprinkled throughout the Beatles music and their photos and album covers that points to the fact that Paul really is not with us anymore and for whatever reason the story just took off: it was 1969! Yeah, I mean, there was no internet. So it was really remarkable that other papers picked it up. It spread across the country. This lasted for weeks, and it wasn’t until Life Magazine photojournalists went and tracked down Paul McCartney, he was on vacation somewhere in Europe, and took a photo of him, and said, “You know what? No! Paul is still with us.” I think that was exactly what it said on the cover that the rumors were sort of debunked, but Fred became pretty famous. He was flown to Hollywood to do interviews and appeared on all these radio broadcasts and Fred is actually still around today. He’s now a part of a country music group called Writers in the Sky. And he goes by the name of Too Slim.

Holdship: Now of course there are a number of incredibly serious anecdotes as well. We’ve focused on some of the more fun ones. There’s that piece from Roger rep report about going down south during the Civil Rights Movement and one of the pieces is about covering the affirmative action trial. There are some really interesting things that happen at the university. One of the first cases of internet crime. Somebody writes about their experience covering 9-11. Do you have one that stands out for you?

Steinberg: Yeah I mean actually you mentioned 9-11 and that one was kind of heartbreaking to read at certain points and hard to stomach. That was by Jeff Gagnin, and he is now an editor at GQ. He was editor-in-chief on that day and he describes what was happening in the newsroom and the fact that no one, obviously, knew what was going on when they’re watching the planes hit the towers on the morning of 9-11. And The Daily, like everyone else, had to sort of figure it out and figure out what to put on the front page the next day. And he describes that process. But what’s really impressive is that The Daily didn’t just get campus reaction from Ann Arbor, you know, getting the thoughts of students, and the professors, and the greater community. The Daily sent reporters to Washington DC, to New York City, to Pennsylvania, and not only that. They sent a reporter to Afghanistan and Pakistan to actually cover the military response there. And, you know, this is a college paper we’re talking about. This is not the New York Times. It was truly remarkable to hear some of the “behind the scenes” and the decision-making that went on to cover 9-11 and the weeks afterward.

Holdship: So talk a little bit about the uniqueness of the Michigan Daily. I’m not sure if people realize who didn’t go to school here or who haven’t been here for a long time that there is no journalism program here and much of what goes on at the Michigan Daily is done without any “adult supervision.” It’s really student reporters and editors teaching one another. What kind of influence does that have on the product and the atmosphere there.

Steinberg: Basically everyone who walks in the Daily doors, they learn from each other. So you’re really learning from an editor who’s a year or two older than you how to write a lead or a structure a story or the best way to ask interview questions or get a photo. So it’s all self-taught, which is really truly remarkable when you think about it because we’re one of the premiere college newspapers in the country and we’re just teaching each other. The Daily just has this ability to kick out top-notch journalists. There is no adult in the newsroom at midnight or 2AM when the pages need to get sent to the printer, and everyone’s cramming on deadline, and it’s all “you learn on the go.” There’s no better way to actually learn how to do journalism than sort of being thrown into the deep end of the pool as Shannon Pettypiece from Bloomberg sort of wrote about in her story, and she covered the affirmative action case at the university. And that was really being thrown into the deep end of a pool, and somehow it works.

Holdship: Okay, so let’s go to Al. He’s going to flash us back to 1960 and that fateful night when Senator Kennedy spoke at the Michigan Union. And looking back on that night and the weeks that followed, Al makes it very clear that something larger was at work. And it took a whole confluence of events to come together in order for the Peace Corps to actually come to fruition.

Al Guskin: The probabilities are very low that this should have happened, even today, 55 years later, it actually still gives me goosebumps. I mean, I’ve been a president of two universities, I’ve done all these things. And it’s been a long time since this happened, but there’s nothing like that. You have to have Sharon Jefferey, who is a student on the University of Michigan campus, whose mother is Millie Jeffrey, who is the director of the UAW community relations and the campaign manager for Kennedy. Kennedy comes, talks for three minutes. Chester Bowles follows him on the 18th. And then we get the idea. We put it in the Michigan Daily. Michigan Daily’s edited by Tom Hayden, who’s interested in student activism and loves us. And then Sharon Jeffrey, who’s a student activist on campus, she tells her mother about what’s going on in the University of Michigan campus. She then calls sends the material to one of the speech writers Maya Felba, who rejects it, and Millie Jeffrey, who was about five foot two and the most powerful woman I think I ever met, she wasn’t going to take “no” for an answer. She goes to Sorensen, she goes to Warafin. They go to Kennedy and they write the speech and everything comes together. The probabilities of this happening! Amazing story. It’s it’s very humbling. It’s very humbling because it wasn’t as if I was a politician or planned this, you know, like a big policy person figuring out how to create a Peace Corps. It happened. And I was there. I was not involved in international work before. I was not really active in student politics on campus. I was a graduate student. And why did I decide to make the choice that I did? I can’t explain it. This International Center at the University of Michigan was critical in all this. They provided facilities and support and so on. So we had mimeograph in those days. You didn’t have Xerox machines. And so we decided, it was a leadership group of about eight people, including the person who’s director. Now the International Center was part of our group. And we decided we were going to have petitions, so we have these events all over campus and have petitions sent out. One of the most interesting things: people whom we did not know made copies of the petitions and were submitting it themselves, and then they sent us the list. It was “that thick,” and it had 1000 names on it. And that impressed Millie Jeffery a lot that people were really committed to going.

Holdship: This is where the story picks up some serious momentum. Senator Kennedy had heard about all this activity on the campus, and while he was making a tour stop in Toledo, he invited students to meet him there at the airport. Shortly thereafter, he would make a very significant foreign policy speech at the Cow Palace. And in just a few days, he would be elected President of the United States. Here’s Al.

Guskin: Why did he want to see us five days before the election and not have any press there? Fascinating. It was another overwhelming moment than all of this. And he came down from the plane. We were already on the tarmac, and we talked with him. And I asked him a question, I said, “How serious are you really?” Anyhow, I’m 23 years old. And so he looks at me, and he says, “Until Tuesday, we’ll worry about this nation. After Tuesday? The world.” It’s a wonderful thing. He just was so “on,” that he could, literally, rather than laugh at me, which would have been appropriate actually, given who he is and who I was, he really made a little bit of a joke of it, but a serious joke in saying those commitments. The truth was, he wasn’t particularly committed to the Peace Corps. And he had a lot of things he had to do. This Harris Wofford, who was his assistant, told me, “All the other letters received, asking for places to work, asking what they could do, the Peace Corps had more than all the others combined.” And I know that Walter Ruther, who’s the head of the UAW, his brother Victor Ruther who was in Washington DC as the lobbyist for the UAW, he was deeply committed to it and he lobbied hard as did a lot of other people for Kennedy to really create the Peace Corps. So the most important part of this whole story to me is that the Peace Corps was not created by politicians, not created by policy people, it was created by young people who wanted to do something. And in that continued right up to the time that the Peace Corps was created March 1st. There were obviously big time policy people in creating it. But it was because of the young people, the students, that exists. That’s a wonderful story.

Holdship: This year the Peace Corps received its highest number of applications in 40 years. So suffice to say Al’s efforts are still bearing fruit. Thank you. Okay now we’re going to hear from Mike Wood, my colleague, he was on the scene for very unexpectedly, unbelievably huge story. The video he produced has been seen by over 650,000 people. So here’s Mike.

Mike Wood: I was doing a video story with Dan Fisher over in the Museum of Natural History. And it’s ten o’clock on Wednesday of that week. And he just mentioned before we get started today I got an email from this farmer nearby and he found some bones. And I was like, “oh bones?” and I said, “are you gonna go out there?” and he said, “Well probably.” And so I ask if I could go along shoot video and I was thinking really just to get a little extra video for the story I was doing kind of see what they do. And he was saying “you know we get these all the time it may not be anything.” And by ten o’clock that night I got an email, he said, “Look, my team’s gonna be there at nine in the morning. If you want to come along, come along.” So I went out to the farm. I got there, I was in the middle of a field. There’s an excavator backhoe digging away. Dr. Fisher and several of his students and PhD candidates and stuff we’re down in this whole eight feet down, all muddy. And I looked in and there’s nothing that I could see other than mud and digging and slopping around and I kept shooting. And they’re like, “oh we found something” and the more I zoomed in I still really didn’t see anything. And then they said, “we found a tusk! We have a tusk!” and they all got excited. I still really didn’t see it even in my camera. And then they started outlining, you know, scooping away more and more mud and dirt and you could see a tusk. That’s when I realized, wow that’s pretty cool. They found a tusk. Shortly after they found another tusk and then he said, “they’re still connected to the skull.” And the more excited those guys got you know the more excited I got it. I was like wow this is pretty significant. You know, I looked up from my camera and all of a sudden there’s townspeople kind of meandering out to the site and neighboring farmers and it kind of got more and more exciting. And then you start thinking about 10 thousand year old animal roaming around this land. Coincidentally I grew up in that area too. And so I was like, “Wow! Who knew?” My colleague Jim Erickson who’s our science writer, he was getting quotes from the researchers and everything and it turned out to be just this really neat part of history that we are able to be a witness to. And the thing that made it really interesting was the farmer was reluctant kind of at first. I mean he had a drain to put in and he has soybeans that he needed to harvest in the coming weeks or days. And he told Professor Fisher, he said, “you have one day.” Usually these things take a month maybe two months. He knew he had one day and so it’s so bizarre that from the beginning of the day when I’m looking at in this muddy pit of nothing, by the end of the day it was like five o’clock when they finally raised up that skull and tusks. I think part of it was that fast, they just worked like crazy. Professor Fisher never left the hole hardly. He was just in there you know and these young students trying to keep up with him and his wife was there literally sticking sandwiches in his in his mouth any chance he could and he wouldn’t stop. He just kept digging and digging because he knew he had one day and he wanted to get as much of this find as he could. And of course the more they found the more they realize how significant it was and they had to get everything. And it’s just amazing all in one day from thinking there might be something, to pulling out this amazing find that was like 14 thousand years old. It was just crazy. There’s a lot of things that kinda came together that day. I think to make it an interesting story and kind of a classic story, any story needs characters and especially with video. And I mean you had Professor Dan Fisher who’s a lifelong paleontologist and he’s just got that classic look in the video where he’s got mud all over his face, he has been working all day in the excavating these bones and the land owner Jim Bristly who is just the hard-working farmer who was just trying to drain some water off is soybean field and he was a great character. I was just and then all the people that came in were shooting video with their iPads and iPhones and whatever else. It was just kind of a neat thing full of just the perfect story I guess full of characters.

Holdship: All right well that’s it for episode three. Thanks for tuning in hope you enjoyed it. You haven’t heard episode one or two and there’s lot of good stories on there. So I hope you can listen. Thanks again we’ll see you next time. And of course as always, Go blue.

“No better way to learn journalism”

Welcome to Episode 3 of “Listen in, Michigan,” a new podcast designed for Michigan Today readers and fans of the audio format.

In this episode we hear from journalist Stephanie Steinberg, editor at U.S. News & World Report and 2011 editor-in-chief at U-M’s student newspaper, The Michigan Daily. She recently edited a book marking the Daily’s 125th anniversary: In the Name of Editorial Freedom — 125 Years at The Michigan Daily. The book includes 39 essays from Daily alumni who have gone on to impressive careers at such prestigious publications as The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Sports Illustrated, and GQ, to name a few. The paper has produced Pulitzer Prize winners, award-winning filmmakers and photographers, documentarians, professors of journalism, and more.

Jay Cassidy, RFK

Jay Cassidy, with glasses and camera, at a rally featuring RFK. (Image courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library.)

Steinberg shares some of the anecdotes from the book, from the discovery of unpublished photos of Robert F. Kennedy by Jay Cassidy just weeks before Kennedy was killed to the story behind the “Paul is Dead” spoof regarding rumors of Paul McCartney’s untimely demise. The book features bylines by such writers as Daniel Okrent, the first public editor of The New York Times; Josh White, The Washington Post’s education editor; and married writers Rebecca Blumenstein and Alan Paul, who met as student journalists. Blumenstein is now deputy editor-in-chief at The Wall Street Journal; Paul is a senior writer for Guitar World and Slam, with bylines in The New Yorker, The Wall Street Journal, and People.

In addition, we’ve got an interview with Al Guskin, PhD ’68, professor emeritus of Antioch University, with a first-hand account of the life-changing events of Oct. 14, 1960, when then-Sen. John F. Kennedy spoke to U-M students from the steps of the Michigan Union and first introduced the idea of the Peace Corps.

Finally, we have a behind-the-scenes look at the production of one of Michigan News’ biggest stories, both literally and figuratively. Earlier this month, local farmer James Bristle discovered the skull, tusks, and other remains of a mammoth projected to be between 11,000-15,000 years old. Videographer Mike Wood filmed U-M paleontologists unearthing the find. The footage alone is incredible. Seeing it in person was an utterly incredible experience, Wood says.

(All of the links above will take you to archived stories at Michigan Today. Hear more “Listen In, Michigan” podcasts. Subscribe at iTunesTunein, and Stitcher.)

(Production assistant: Alex Nowlin; Original music and sound design: Barry Holdship.)

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