"When dawn spreads its paintbrush on the plain, spilling purple... ," Sons of the Pioneers theme for TV show "Wagon Train." Dawn on the mythic Santa Fe Trail, New Mexico, looking toward Raton from Cimarron. -- Clarkphoto. A curmudgeon artist's musings melding metaphors and journalism, for readers in more than 150 countries.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

The journalism of 20 years ago, April 19--part 3

From the front page of The Daily Oklahoman April 20, the three leads of the stories:

"A thunderous bomb blast rocked Oklahoma City on Wednesday, ripping a huge slice from a federal building and killing at least 150 to 200 people, many of them children."
--Steve Lackmeyer and David Zizzo

"Five small children, badly injured and bloodied, and a toy doll were among the first to be removed from the Murrah Building's second floor day care center.
    "'You couldn't even tell they had been little boys or little girls,' said… ."

--Diana Baldwin

"Oklahoma City will never be the same. "
--Penny Owen

Other credits: Main headline, Ed Sargent, newseditor; dominant photo, Jim Argo.

For many years afterward, every class I taught at UCO had students who were directly affected by the April 19 bombing, or who knew people who were victims. Today that is rare because they are too young to remember.
But consider these powerful opening lines and reporting. I still use these as examples of excellent reporting and writing, description and verbs and drama,  for my writing students. (And, proudly, Penny Owen is one of my former students and our graduate.)

Saturday, April 18, 2015

The journalism of April 19, 20 years ago--part 2

Front page of The Daily Oklahoman, April 19, 1995
 The Oklahoma City Murrah Federal Building bombing on April 19, 20 years ago, affected the entire state. I think it is the only news story since statehood getting almost universal coverage in Oklahoma's almost 200 daily and weekly papers. Pearl Harbor, or 9-11 since then, may be close.
At the time of the bombing, there were 47 dailies and 136 weeklies in Oklahoma. From Boise City to Idabell and Pitcher to Eldorado, I found only four newspapers that didn't have stories about the bombing. My content analysis was for The Oklahoma Press Association newspaper, The Oklahoma Publisher.
The newspaper most affected by the bombing was the daily business newspaper, the Journal-Record, located across the street north from the federal building. Its building now houses the Bombing Memorial museum.
Several staff members, including one of our UCO grads, were injured and were lucky they weren't standing in front of their south windows when the blast occurred. After missing the next day's issue, in an amazing feat of journalism, those journalists used our computers in the UCO Vista to produce the remarkable next issue.
It was "only" a two-page paper--front and back--headlined "Eyewitness Accounts of the Tragedy," were first person stories by each staff member. 
Oklahoma's two largest newspapers, The Daily Oklahoman and the Tulsa World, starred in their coverage, not just the day after but for weeks and months to come. The World's photo coverage was stunning.
For Oklahoma City's hometown The  Oklahoman, it was the paper's finest hour.  The building, a few miles north of the bombing and built to withstand a tornado, shook. The reporters and photographers were downtown almost immediately, some in their heels scrambling through rubble.
The entire news staff showed up, putting in long hours, day after day. I wasn't supposed to work that night, but went in, and got a "Yes" nod from my editor and helped edit stories and write headlines for the next day's paper. As reports of dead children came in later that day, in the break room, I saw an assistant editor looking out the window and crying.
As the weeks went by, the paper started  "Those Who Died" vignettes, little stories about each of the victims, written by several members of the staff, making the story intensely personal. Those became the model for what the New York Times did after 9-11. 

I believe the paper did more than just cover the news and humanity--it became a tangible psychological force in the survival and healing of the city and state. Every morning, people could pick up something solid, something that said the world is still normal, there is still goodness among all the bad news, something you can count on, even when your foundation of security has been blasted away. The coverage was continual; it was months before a bombing related story didn't appear on the front page.
It was also the source for news by others--it in many ways "owned" the story. Rick Bragg, Pulitizer winner for the New York Times said The Oklahoman was the paper of record--he had to pick it up every day to see what was going on.
The  Oklahoman should have won a Pulitizer Prize for its exceptional work. A tradition is the award goes to  local newspapers for excellence in responding to local crises. But it didn't, to the consternation of those hard-working journalists. My opinion is that the Pulitzer judges snubbed the paper because they so strongly disagreed with the paper's very conservative editorial page.  That was a crime, because the news staff more than earned it.

"Oklahoma City tragedy affects everyone" 
cried the headline in the Ringling Eagle in far southern Oklahoma a week later, telling the story of the state.
As an old weekly newspaper man, I was proud of how those all local news papers responded around the state--reflecting the hardiness and goodness of Okies.
"The bombing washed over Oklahoma like a harshly dropped stone in a serene pool," wrote the Wynnewood Gazette, summarizing the impact as well as any.
In my content analysis of those papers in the next two weeks I found--
  • 84 staff stories about local activities and local impressions of the bombing
  • 57 staff photos of local activities related to bombing
  • 44 staff photos about people who took part in the rescue and other efforts
  • 28 photos of the bombing site
  • 25 stories about the bombing
  • 21 stories about victims with local connections
  • 12 editorials

For  non-journalists, understand that headlines are measured by how tall they are in points--a printer's measure. There are 72 points to an inch. Many headlines today are rarely more than 36 points (a half inch) or 48 points.
The Daily Oklahoman's "Morning of Terror" in all caps was a 144 point headline.

Largest headline in the state was at the Edmond Sun, which came out with the story the afternoon of April 19, "Explosion" in all caps, 268 point
Tulsa World, "Bombing Terror," 186 point

Largest of the weeklies
Meeker News, "Act of Terrorism," 144 point.
By the way, The Daily Oklahoman became a national leader in helping train journalists on how to deal with victims of trauma and for helping journalists deal with their own trauma. It won the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma's  Excellence in Covering Trauma
Award that year and used the funds to conduct a national workshop on the UCO campus for journalists.
And the printing plate that produced their April 20  front page hangs in the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

The journalism of April 19, 20 years ago--part 1

The entire state knows what tomorrow is. Here, on the campus of Oklahoma Christian University, American flags.
(The following will be some of the first part of my presentation on a panel discussion at UCO Monday, commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing.)

"A thunderous bomb blast rocked Oklahoma City on Wednesday, ripping a huge slice from a federal building and killing at least 150 to 200 people, many of them children."
--Steve Lackmeyer and David Zizzo, The Oklahoman, April 20, 1995

Twenty years ago tomorrow, I was sitting in my UCO office on the phone with a graduate working at the Tulsa World, and the window rattled violently. I hung up, wondering. There was one TV in the building in another chair's office and we gathered to watch an aerial shot of smoke rising from a  building. I frankly didn't know what the building was, even when identified. 
We didn't go downtown much in those days. It was mainly offices in nondescript buildings.
What followed in days, weeks and months emphasized the functions and role of the media in our state in a way rarely seen. The bombing of the Murrah federal building killed 168 people and injured hundreds more.
I was a part time copy editor at The Oklahoman at nights, so I saw first hand how those journalists worked,  as well as studying other newspapers in the state.

There are two parts to my comments--briefly dealing with national media, and then focusing on Oklahoma newspapers, which I consider more important.
The bad side of journalism showed up almost immediately on national TV, and then spread to respected national newspapers. Within hours of the explosion, one network and then another were quoting unnamed sources or so-called experts that the bombing "has all the earmarks of Mideast terrorism."  

Any journalist knows "Mideast" is a fearful American euphemism for Muslims or Arabic-looking individuals.  The next day, Connie Chung in town for CBS said the same thing.
Locally and nationally the profiling went on, locally and nationally. A Jordanian-

American and citizen of Oklahoma City had the misfortune of traveling that day from OKC to Jordan. He was stopped in Chicago and then in London grilled for six hours, saying he was going to be arrested for the bombing. Ibraham Ahmad was terrified, and obviously later cleared.
Almost nobody in the media seemed to think that the bombing was the work of right wing American  terrorists, or link it to  the Waco debacle two years earlier.

One more story about Chung, CBS' bright rising star and co-anchor. She drew local resentment with all her star power and special treatment. When she asked the OKC fire chief it he thought OKC could handle the crisis,  it was viewed here as an outsider's condescending put down. The eruption that followed bombarded CBS with protests, and while the network tried to clarify or apologize, it didn't work. Chung was demoted the next month and left the network.(Next--Oklahoma newspapers tell the story.) 

Monday, April 13, 2015

The Voice of the Rain

5 1/2" by 9"
A steady, gentle spring rain and cool weather today brings thoughts of Whitman's words and a watercolor--
The Voice of Rain
"And who art thou? said I to the    soft-falling shower,
Which, strange to tell, gave me an answer, as here translated:
I am the Poem of Earth, said the voice of the rain,
Eternal I rise impalpable out of the land and the bottomless sea,
Upward to heaven, whence, vaguely form'd, altogether changed, and
yet the same,
I descend to lave the drouths, atomies, dust-layers of the globe,
And all that in them without me were seeds only, latent, unborn;
And forever, by day and night, I give back life to my own origin,
and make pure and beautify it;
(For song, issuing from its birth-place, after fulfilment, wandering,
Reck'd or unreck'd, duly with love returns.)"

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Don't miss this Western journey

Poster outside the exhibit
If you are a Westerner, or love the West, or wildlife, or great art, there's an exhibit at the Sam Noble Museum of Natural History that you don't want to miss, and it ends April 26.
"Harmless Hunter, The Wildlife Work of Charles M. Russell" brings 18 paintings, 10 small sculptures and 13 other sketches and work from several famous museums around the country to the OU campus in Norman.
Go see it to be inspired.
You can't take photographs inside the exhibit, but I've downloaded a couple from the Internet to give you a taste.
The show is curated by OU's Dr. Byron Price, Charles Marion Russell Memorial Chair, and Director of Charles M. Russell Center for the Study of Art of the American West at OU.
I was particularly taken by some of the watercolors I'd never seen before, and some of the oils took my breath away. It's like studying art from a master.
It was a day when I needed a boost, and worth the hassle of driving to Norman, because for two hours of watching, studying, taking notes, I forgot about the rest of the world and was transported back to the last days of the Old West.
The West was and is a place of conflict, between nature, humans and wildlife, and nobody caught this more than Russell. I'll admit, I've been around his work all my life because my Dad was an artist who loved Russell and who found inspiration there. 
The exhibit gets its title from Russell, who hunted wildlife with his paintbrush as a "Harmless Hunter," and he had an unsurpassed talent to capture the soul of animals, four- and two-legged alike, in action. 
His favorite subject was probably the buffalo, and out of more than 2,000 works, his portrayal of this wild animal helped make it the icon of the West. His signature on every painting of a buffalo skull is an icon in its own right. 
Other wildlife that he painted include numerous grizzly in conflict, wolves, deer, mountain lions, pronghorn, birds, bighorn sheep, foxes and coyotes.
All of his work tells stories, stories of the West, and most of them leave the conclusions in doubt, as one panel terms them "predicaments," where humans and wildlife face each other. Such is the case with exhibit poster, a detail  of one of the paintings, "Crippled but Still Coming."
"Crippled but Still Coming"--opening painting of the exhibit
The rugged landscapes are as dramatic as the action, and Russell excelled in subjects late in the day, when the light is dramatic with shadows and sunlight  or passing, just as the Wild West was passing while he lived, 1864-1926. My favorite, which I sat in front of for a long time, as the day fades and the full moon rises, is "To the Victor Belong the Spoils," of Grizz taking the kill, while wolves circle at a distance.

My favorite, "To the Victor Belong the Spoils"
I could write much more, but here are some of the main things I noticed as an art student, who was particularly interested in his eight watercolors. The vivid colors and landscapes of the oils are almost the opposite of the watercolors. In the watercolors, the central subjects have brighter colors and the backgrounds fade in the dusty distance. You can almost taste the dust.
But in all his paintings, his meticulous and accurate attention to detail is amazing, whether it is Indian garb, cowboy dress, firearms, gun belts, or more.
And don't miss his humor, as a sketch of a fox and skunk smoking a peace pipe, or his illustrated letters to friends, including one of him up a tree in Florida with a crocodile underneath, or a sculptured wolf sniffing a discarded whiskey bottle.
Another favorite was a five-inch square watercolor on birchbark with a poem to some recently married friends, with the owl and other birds discussing the newlyweds. There are also illustrations for magazine articles, sketches for his paintings, and more. I came back trying to find a couple of favorite large watercolors on the Internet, having never seen them before, and couldn't, including one of Teddy Roosevelt hunting a grizzly with dogs. So worth the trip. But here is one watercolor, of Russell on a horse in a actual buffalo roundup, "Pablo's Buffalo Hunt,"  in his beloved Montana.

"Pablo's Buffalo Hunt"--a watercolor
This is a treasure. Don't miss it.

Black Mesa imagination closer to home

You don't have to travel 365 miles to Oklahoma's far northwest corner to sample that dramatic landscape including Black Mesa.
You should, and I did three years ago, and have hiked to our state's highest point. But on a rare free Saturday, I drove to The Sam Noble Museum of Natural History at OU in Norman. I went to see an extraordinary Western art exhibit, but before I left, I just had to go upstairs and see the Black Mesa exhibit.
It is more than realistic in the 2,000 square-foot dioramas, depicting the landscape and the wildlife...from tarantulas, to snakes, rabbits, small birds to large ravens, pronghorn, whitetailed deer, mountain lion and bison and more.
Take  a trip into imagination with the extremely realistic, lifelike and interactive displays...you leave your cares behind.
Me on top of Black Mesa...I'm not a museum exhibit, yet
My previous posts about the actual journey:
Favorite Places
Top of Oklahoma
On Top
Geezer, God chat on Black Mesa
My Kind of Roads

Thursday, April 9, 2015

150 years ago...A Southerner's thoughts

Tom Lovell's painting  from Alfred Waud's sketch of Lee surrendering at Appomattox--look at the drama in Grant and others
When you grow up a Southerner, one event seems to overshadow all else. Travel through the South today and you can still see it, in the statues at the courthouses, in the scattered cemeteries, in the famed battlefield monuments, in the genealogical records, in the Confederate gray air and humidity.
There is a romance about it, of the "Lost Cause," of fighting against overwhelming odds, of the small tinges of fate that sealed the fate of brave Americans fighting and dying.
But there is much we were not taught...about  the cruelty of slavery, about the inequality of rich landowners using the blood of poor whites to sustain their economy, about the terrible cost of America's most deadly war, about the ensuing "reconstruction,"  the KKK, Jim Crow and discrimination for 100+ years.
I am disturbed. I'm saddened that racists have turned the Confederate battle flag into a racist symbol.  But I understand that it certainly has become that. I always nobly thought that my ancestors were the non-slaveholders, but research of federal census counts by my oldest son Vance has shown that my great grandfather Batte Peterson Clark Sr. probably owned at least nine slaves. That is very disturbing and upsetting. And I certainly know the War ended for the best for all people and America as a whole.
Appomattox Courthouse
But I'm still proud to be a Southerner--it's ingrained deeply. In many ways I am a Confederate--a rebel against an overwhelming establishment, and also proud of my heritage.  When you've been defeated, invaded and occupied, it's natural to hate or resent victors. It's easy to be a romantic when young, surrounded by history like "Lee's Lieutenants," or reading Bruce Catton's history of the war. Watch the movie "Gettysburg" and it brings tears for the brave men in both blue and gray. More tears followed in the great movie "Lincoln," both for a great president, and for the reality of Appomattox.
Confederate grave at Purcell, OK
Walk through a Civil War cemetery, at Gettysburg, Vicksburg, (which I have) anywhere, or find the graves of Southern solders at various graveyards here in Oklahoma and elsewhere. Consider the costs of a nation ripping itself apart--more than 600,000 lives in four years.
Read again, "A Stillness at Appomattox," by Catton, and if you don't tear up, I'm sorry. You're missing something so American. There is honor, but not much glory.
Appomattox, Palm Sunday, April 9, 1865, 150 years ago. Salute.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Easter dawn

Dawn over Jordan...4.5" by 6" watercolor
in the face of eternity. 
Budding trees.
Sprouting bulbs.
Singing birds.
Life-giving showers.
and years
flowing like the Jordan
through dry country.