Interviewee: Ralph Lowenstein
Interviewer: Julian Pleasants
Date: August 30, 2000
P: This is Julian Pleasants, and I am interviewing Ralph Lowenstein. This is August
30, 2000, and we are in my office at 220 Yon Hall at the University of Florida.
When and where were you born?
L: I was born March 8, 1930, in Danville, Virginia.
P: Talk a little bit about the environment in which you grew up.
L: It was rather unusual in a sense because my grandfather had come to Danville in
1894 and opened a haberdashery store. My mother was born in Danville in 1898.
My mother was part of a very large family of nine children, six girls and three
boys, a very close-knit family. However, my father, who was raised in
Wilmington, North Carolina, and especially Roanoke, Virginia-he graduated high
school in Roanoke-had come from a very poor background. His father had
hardly ever made a decent living. There were seven children in my father's
family. He was the second oldest, and he had to go to work even when he was in
high school to help support the family. In fact, his older brother, who became my
father's partner for forty years, Uncle Jake, said that when he turned thirteen
years old in Wilmington, North Carolina, that his father said, well Jake, you are
bar mitzvahed now, it is time to quit school and go to work. He went to work for
the Seaboard Coastline, I believe it was, as a runner at the age of thirteen. My
father did graduate [from] high school, but in high school, he had worked for a
pawnbroker in Roanoke, sweeping up before and after school and then working
as a clerk on the weekends. He learned that business, so when he was about
twenty-four years old in 1922, he and his older brother wanted to start off on their
own, and so they opened a pawnshop in Danville, which was the first pawnshop
there. I mention this because Danville was only a town of about 35,000 people, a
mill town primarily. The Dan River Cotton Mills were located there, and they
employed about 12,000 people. There was no other real industry there, other
than the tobacco market in the fall. There was a very large flue-cured tobacco
market in Danville. But, as one can imagine, growing up the son of a pawnbroker
with all the stereotypical ideas, although we sold more new stuff than used stuff
certainly in our store, and it was a very good store, in fact, the best luggage store
in Danville. People from all over came to buy luggage there.
My father was an extremely good and ethical businessman. But there was a
certain stigma, I would say, as being the pawnbroker's son and as being a Jew in
a town that only had seventy-five Jewish families. The other unusual thing about
Danville is, despite the fact that we had only seventy-five Jewish families, we had
two Jewish congregations where most towns that size would not even be able to
support one. We had a completely Orthodox Jewish congregation and a
completely Reformed at the other extreme. No Conservative [congregation],
which most other Southern Jewish communities had. Again, that was very
unusual. This was one of the very few strictly Orthodox congregations in the
entire South, especially in small towns. Almost no town had orthodox
congregations because there were so few Jews that they all mixed together in
one congregation. Each congregation had a rabbi. Oddly enough, we had only
about, I would say, thirty to thirty-five families in our congregation. I was in the
Orthodox. My grandfather had founded the Orthodox congregation in 1910. The
synagogue was built, as a matter of fact, in 1910. My grandfather, Jacob
Berman, was a very respected man. In fact, the store that he started, J. Berman,
still exists today 106 years later, and my first cousin, J. Berman, runs that store. It
is really one of the most respected businesses in town. I did not have that name
Berman. That was my mother's name. My name was Lowenstein. I mention this
because if one goes back to see the things that molded my life, people know me
as an adult, beyond middle age, these were things that affected my life very
I had an extremely good Jewish background. My family maintained a kosher
home, even in a small town like that. Although I would say we were really like
Conservative Jews. We really were not Orthodox, in that we rode on the
Sabbath, we ate out sometimes. Although we kept a kosher home, we were
inconsistent. But I did grow up in that environment with an extremely good
Jewish education. In fact, I went to Hebrew school from the age of five to
seventeen, even beyond [my] bar mitzvah, which is rarely done in congregations
in the United States today. I went to Hebrew school two afternoons a week, I
went to Sabbath school after Saturday morning services, and I went to Sunday
school to learn history on Sunday morning and later became a teacher in the
P: Talk a little bit about your experience in the Danville public schools.
L: What was interesting about it is, in the Danville public schools, I think socially,
Jews in those days grew up with a complete social apartheid. That is, all of my
friends, playmates, obviously were Christians, but socially, they did not eat over
at my house. I did not eat over at their house. They did not sleep over at my
house. I did not sleep over at their house. Our parents did not mingle with each
other socially in any way whatsoever. I might mention the fact that my father was
born in Lithuania in 1898, but he came over at the age of two. So, essentially, my
parents were southerners, had southern accents, thought like southerners in
many ways, and yet, there was that social segregation. In fact, Danville had a
number of areas that were restricted. The Jews could not live there. There were
zones. In those days, zoning laws like that were legal, and there were areas
where Jews could not live. Jews were not accepted into the country club, for
example. My father liked to play golf, and he had to drive forty miles to
Greensboro, North Carolina, often to play golf. There were no public golf
courses, but for a short time, in Danville.
P: Was there any discrimination in the school system?
L: Not really. I would say relatively very, very little. Of course, we had Bible reading
in homeroom every morning. When it became our turn, we were allowed to read
out of the Old Testament, where friends read out of the New Testament. But I
would say very little. What was unusual about it was that, despite the sort of
social segregation, you might say, Jews were really given an even break in the
high school. My older brother was the salutatorian. I was the editor of the high
school newspaper. We participated in everything. I was on the debate team. We
were into everything. It was a good school system, looking back at it. I think
growing up, I could see some small areas of discrimination. I would say the
discrimination, again, was social after school. We were not invited to join the Tri-
Hi-Y. The girls-there were no Jewish girls in my class-were not invited to join the
high school sororities and that kind of thing. It was really the after school sort of
segregation that existed, not the during school.
P: You were editor of the school paper, which was known as The Chatterbox.
L: It was an award-winning paper. The high school advisor, who had a tremendous
influence in my life, was Nora Payne Hill, a woman who had very high
standards. She was also the chairman of the English department. Nora Payne
Hill ran a very tight ship. At the end of my junior year when I had taken high
school journalism, she took me out at the end of the journalism banquet and she
said, Ralph, I would like you to be the editor of The Chatterbox next year--if you
learn how to type. I cannot read your writing. I went to summer school and
learned to type that year. I wanted to participate in everything. We could not
participate in sports, which most kids did, and that hurt because I think I was a
fairly good athlete. But you had to go to Hebrew school two afternoons a week.
You could never practice on a team or anything like that, and then the games
were normally on Friday night or Saturday, although my family would not really
have strongly objected to that. Again, it was the practice that I could never do.
We did not have a band. Danville was not rich enough to have a high school
band. But I took clarinet and saxophone, and I was in what was called the Forty
and Eight, an American Legion band of older men and younger boys during
World War II. Then we started a dance band in high school, and I played the
clarinet and saxophone in that dance band. As I said, I was on the debate team
and really participated in activities. There were only two Jewish boys in the class,
[myself and] a fellow named Marvin Schuster. He was also in the Orthodox
community, and he and I were good friends. To move the clock forward, this guy
really achieved. He became a professor at Johns Hopkins University, and then
he became chief of gastroenterology at Johns Hopkins. They just named the
gastroenterology clinic at Johns Hopkins for him, the Marvin Schuster Clinic, and
he is world-famous. He became the physician to the king of Morocco while he
was still at Johns Hopkins. He was the president of the American
P: When did you first realize you wanted to work in journalism?
L: I really liked writing. To go back just a minute, I will just say one other thing. Very
large families. Most of my mother's brothers and sisters lived in Danville or in that
area, and my father's family all lived in North Carolina or Virginia, most of them.
So, basically, seven sets of aunts and uncles are in one family and in the other.
The other unusual thing was my father and his brother married two sisters, so
they were partners in the store, Lowenstein's. They had no children, but my
mother's sister was my father's brother's wife. That was a very close relationship.
I grew up with that close relationship and dozens of cousins, first cousins
everywhere in Danville and spread around North Carolina up to Maryland. In
writing, we were a literate family, and magazines always came into our home. My
father was one of the best-educated men I have ever known, even though he
only had a high school education. I was very lucky to be a very handsome
man, very athletic, but a very bright person as well. So, Time magazine came
into the house. Saturday Evening Post. My mother got Redbook and Good
My family was interested in politics. In fact, my mother was unusual in that she
graduated from a sort of a seminary, a college of sorts, a women's institute in
Danville and then went off to NYU [New York University] Law School, actually
went to NYU Law School for one year, and then she got married, so [she] did not
complete [law school]. My mother actually went higher in education than anybody
else in her family. If my father had grown up under different circumstances, he
could have been anything because he was just so bright. He loved opera. He
played the mandolin by ear. He just had wide-ranging intellectual abilities, and so
did my mother. So, I really came from two very handsome, intelligent people who
were really interested in stuff far beyond Danville itself. Although I think my
mother centered all of her stuff--my mother lived in Danville all of her life and
never really ranged much further away from that. My brother-I want to mention
this and then I will get back to myself-my older brother who is four years older,
Gerald N. Lowenstein, was probably up until that time the brightest person ever
to live in Danville, Virginia. They started giving IQ tests about that time during
World War II or just before, and he had the highest IQ ever registered in Danville.
They used to make those things public. Even in high school, a rabbi taught him
Greek, and today he is fluent in twelve languages. For the last forty years, he has
been the chairman of nuclear medicine at Pacific Medical Center. He was one of
the pioneers in nuclear medicine. During World War II, they gave all the boys
going into the armed forces a certain placement test, and he was immediately
sent to MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology]. Then, after he was there for
one year in the Navy program in World War II, they gave another battery of tests
and picked fifteen men out of the entire Navy to go to Columbia [University] to
study nuclear engineering. He was one of those fifteen. They were training them
for the atomic bomb project. When he graduated and got his [degree], he also
became an officer in the Navy in World War II. It was right at the end of the war.
They sent him immediately out to the Bikini [Atoll] atomic bomb test. When he
came back, he went to work at Los Alamos on the atomic bomb project and then,
after a few years, decided to go into medicine and was one of the pioneers in the
entire country in nuclear medicine.
P: Let me get back to you and why you decided to go to journalism school at
L: I actually had been writing and sending in poems to the Saturday Evening Post
when I was barely a teenager, I guess, and then I wrote for the Chatterbox and
found I really had a talent for that. But, actually, I did not start off as a journalism
major. I went to Columbia, I think largely because my brother had gone to
Columbia and thought that was a good school. I was admitted to the University
of Virginia and Columbia, but my parents allowed me to go to Columbia because
I wanted to go there. I was actually pre-med because my mother, like many
Jewish mothers, wanted all three of her boys to be doctors. Not having a
tremendous amount of ambition or focus, I guess, in the sense of not knowing
what I wanted to do, I was a pre-med student. Well, at the end of one year of
taking chemistry courses and things like that, I realized that I was not going to go
into [medicine]. Science was not my area. Of course, I had the Israeli experience,
which was a defining experience in my life, truthfully. When I came back from
Israel, I really knew I wanted to be a reporter and then aimed my life in that
direction. I did not take actual journalism education until my master's program.
Columbia offered no undergraduate journalism, so I actually majored in
P: Dwight Eisenhower was president of Columbia at that time. What was your
impression of him?
L: Dwight Eisenhower was my meal ticket, strangely enough, because a good friend
of mine, David Wise, had been the UPI correspondent, and then he became the
Columbia stringer for the Herald Tribune in New York. So, when he did that, he
turned over the UPI stringership to me. Eisenhower was the president of
Columbia, and so everything that Eisenhower did, UPI was interested in. It
became UP then, but at that time, it was called United Press International. So, I
covered every speech that Eisenhower made. It was kind of funny, in fact, I
smoked my first cigar at a dinner he gave for the Shah of Iran. You were invited
to sit there, and then they handed out these very expensive cigars. It was sort of
interesting. We knew he was a great hero of World War II and admired him for
that, but all of us who were sort of sophisticated Columbia undergraduates
thought that this guy is not presidential material. You know, is this sort of a joke?
This guy is not ...
P: You mean presidential, as in U. S.?
L: Yes, U. S. So, we covered everything, but actually almost all of us to a person
were in favor in [Adlai] Stevenson [Democratic nominee for President, 1952], not
P: A lot of faculty at the time thought he was not presidential material at Columbia.
L: Right. Well, in fact, he never really was a president at Columbia in the real sense
of the word. He was sort of [a] figure[head]. In those days, there was almost no
fundraising function either. The fundraising was not really considered real
important in those days, even though it was a private institution. He organized it
sort of like you organize the army. He immediately named six Vice Presidents
and had them do all the work.
P: Tell me why you left Columbia in May, 1948, to go fight for Israeli independence.
L: I have given sort of my Jewish background, which was a very strong Jewish
background. When I say strong, not so much religious--I hate to say that, but the
strength for me was not in the religion but was in the identity as a Jew, the history
of the Jews, the history of their struggle, the history of their peoplehood. My
parents were both Zionists. My mother was the president of Hadassah. In fact, at
the time of her death, she had been president of Hadassah for fifty straight years.
I do not think anybody had quite achieved anything like that. She had been
president, vice president or secretary of the Danville chapter of Hadassah for
something like fifty years. She joined Haddassah in Danville about four or five
years after it was founded as an organization by Henrietta Szold. So, I was very
much aware of the nation-building that was going on in Palestine. I knew
everything, I thought, about the political affairs in Palestine. My father was also a
Zionist. If you put all those things together, growing up in a non-Jewish, larger
environment, being a Zionist, feeling the struggle for statehood, of Jewish
identity, I felt very strongly about it. When the state of Israel was declared, on
May 14, 1948, war broke out on May 15. Even when the petition was declared on
November 29, 1947, right there in New York at the United Nations, I followed that
very closely as a Columbia freshman. I was in a Zionist organization at Columbia
University called the Intercollegiate Zionist Federation of America. IZFA, we
called it. So I had strong Zionist feelings. A friend of my brother's who had
befriended me, he was also a Columbia senior by that time, pointed out, not
knowing anything about my Zionist feelings, that there was an exchange program
going on that summer between American students and British students.
The British Union of Students was actually recruiting Americans to come over to
work on British farms in the summer of 1948 because so many British soldiers
had been killed or not yet demobilized that there were not enough farm workers.
The United States cooperated by making a student ship, a World War II
transport, the Marine Tiger, available to transport us at a very cheap price. They
had one ship that was going to be filled with youth hostellers, people in this farm
program, and professors going over just to study or travel in Europe. He said, this
is a good deal, I think it would be good for you, and he encouraged me to go
over. You were supposed to work in the summer and then come back in August.
My parents were willing to do that. The ticket was something like $200 round-trip,
really nothing by today's standards. Even by then, it was very cheap. Of course,
we would get paid a minimum wage when we were there and everything. The
idea was I would work there for six weeks and then I would go over to Europe,
see Europe, and then catch the ship back in August. Behind my mind was hey,
when I get to Europe, maybe I will get a chance to join the Israeli Army. I thought
even then, it was very, very, very remote, but I even told myself then that if I had
a chance and I could do it, I would do it.
P: Did you tell your parents?
L: No, indeed. I was eighteen years old. I had started college at the age of
seventeen because, for various reasons, I had started public school at the age of
five. My mother needed to go to work, and I was the last one in the roost. I went
to a private school for first grade only because public schools would not take me
at five. When I became six, in the second grade, I went into Robert E. Lee
Elementary School and then George Washington High School, two good
Virginians. So, I had just turned eighteen years old, and there was no way my
parents, even though they were strong Zionists that they would have given
permission, allowed me. I mean, as far as they were concerned, they were
Zionists but somebody else could fight. It was not going to be their children. So
no, I never said anything. When the time came for me to go to Europe, when I
got to Paris, I went to the Israeli Embassy which was just opening. In fact,
workmen were nailing up things there. I knew no French. I had taken German in
college. I knew no French, but I knew the word for Jew was Juif. There were only
two things in the Paris phone book that began with the word Juif. I went to the
first one, and it turned out to be a kosher butcher. He then directed me to the
Israeli Embassy, gave me the address, and I went there by Metro. When I went
into the embassy, there was a receptionist and I told her what I wanted to do.
She never said a word to me, but she took a little slip of paper and wrote an
address down on that slip of paper. I went to that address, which was near the
L'Arc de Triomphe, and it was like an apartment house. I went into the apartment
number that she gave me, and there were two empty rooms, just cement walls
around us. But there was a Haganah poster, which is what the defense
organization in Israel called itself before they were actually a state. Haganah
means defense, as a matter of fact. There was a small table and a couple of
chairs and nothing, no furniture, no rug, no nothing else, and these two young
Israeli boys, young men I would say. I told them what I wanted to do and they
said, how do we know you are Jewish? I said, look, here is my passport. I mean,
Lowenstein. Everybody identified Lowenstein as a Jew. They said, that really
does not mean anything to us. They said, how can you prove that you are a Jew?
Because they were really concerned about the British sending in spies. The
British were still opposed, even though the state [of Palestine] had by then been
declared. The British were very hostile, and they were afraid of Arab spies. So I
said, okay, I recited the Hebrew alphabet from alla to zed, all the way down.
That satisfied them. They said, what do you know? We are looking for people
who really know weaponry. Really, the only thing they were recruiting were World
War II veterans. They needed people fast. I said, well, I grew up with rifles, and I
know how to fire weapons. To some extent, that was slightly true because,
number one, we sold a lot of guns in our store. Being a pawnshop, we had
shotguns, rifles, pistols, everything. Although I did not fire them.
I have another brother two years older than I named Murray Lowenstein. Murray
was eighteen months older than I, so we were very close, only a year apart in
school. Murray and I asked our father once if we could get two rifles that they had
that were just damaged and you could not even sell, just to play with. Dad gave
them to us, thinking that they could [not work], and Murray and I repaired them.
Our neighbor across the street took his son out hunting all the time, and he was
my best friend. We played together. So, Murray and I had .22 rifles that we went
out and fired. So yeah, I knew how to fire rifles and stuff like that, and I had been
in the military. I forgot to mention we had a military corps in high school because
of World War II, and I had risen to be a captain in the military corps. So I knew
short-order drill and all the other stuff, too. Anyhow, no, I had never really been in
the real Army, but I convinced them that I could do that, and I said my parents
would not object. That was an out-and-out lie, of course, because I knew that
they would really go crazy. Actually, my mother would really have gone
practically insane, which she did, incidentally, almost. So, they said, well, okay,
all right, and they sent me around over the next two days to be examined by
Jewish doctors who were at different locations in Paris who had agreed to
examine people. Three days later, I was on a train with two other Americans, a
guy named Frank Pearlman, from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Jack Shulman,
from the Bronx.
P: Did you have to sign any kind of document or make any kind of commitment?
L: It was one of those things that, today, no one in their right minds probably would
do. People think, Ralph did something really crazy, he was reckless. I just felt
very strongly and very committed, and I was willing to commit my life to it.
Basically, it was not just a youthful thing. I mean, I was very mature at eighteen.
Looking back at it, I was still very mature at eighteen, and this was something
that I was willing to give my life for. Looking back at it now at the age of seventy,
it is wonderful if you believe in anything strongly enough that you are willing to
give your life for. Anyhow, these other two guys were both veterans of the
American Army, and we became very good friends. What they did was they took
away my passport. No, I did not sign anything. The opposite. They took away my
passport, which is probably the most precious thing an American can have, and
they gave me papers of a displaced person. I actually became a different person,
with a different name. The name was Zerch Itzcovitch. I had then the papers as
though I were a displaced person who had come from Poland or somewhere else
because, actually, the United Nations, as part of the truce, the first truce ... the
Jews and the Arabs had already had one round of fighting, and then there was a
U. N. mandated truce. There were U.N. observers sitting at the airport, although
very few came in by air, and at Haifa, at the port, checking every ship to see that
only bona fide displaced persons could come in. Foreign volunteers were not
allowed to come into the country.
Of course, it was just ridiculous. It was a whole double-standard against Israel
that exists even today and the U.N. and everywhere else. Here, you had the Arab
borders with five Arab countries. The Arabs were sending armies streaming
across these borders. Nobody was there checking them, but Jews could not
come in unless they were bona fide displaced persons. It was absurd, but they
had to play that game. That was in early or middle July. I do not remember the
exact date [in] 1948, and I never saw my passport again until the day I was
discharged from the Israeli Army, which was at the end of the year. I will tell you
about that in a minute. For that purpose I became Zerch Itzcovitch, and those
other two guys whom I had never met until we got on the train together, they had
other names as well. We were sent down to Marseilles from Paris. It was a very
long train ride. I think it took about eight hours. We were sent down to Marseilles
to a displaced persons camp.
P: So in effect, you were smuggled into Israel?
L: Oh yes. I will tell you in a minute I was really literally smuggled in. But we went to
this displaced persons camp, and we were living with displaced persons. I will not
go into it now, I described it in my book. I wrote a novel, years later, about this
called Bring My Sons From Far, and I described that whole experience. What I
think shaped me in some way in my feelings towards Israel is that I lived with
displaced persons. I saw the remnants of the Holocaust. I did not see the
Holocaust. I read about it. I grew up reading about it, but I saw the survivors and
the remnants. What Israel had to deal with to remake these people, these people
were like animals. Every time we had a food line for a meal in this DP camp
which was called St. Gene, fights broke out. There was plenty of food, such as it
was, but fights broke out every time there was a line. People tried to get in the
front of the line. People got in fights. People would get their food and take bits of
bread back to their bunks, their cots, and hide them under their cots. I mean,
these were people who lived for three or four years in concentration camps in
Auschwitz and survived. These people were hardly human beings. They had to
start all over again.
Then, after being in that DP camp for two weeks, they moved us to another DP
camp. They kept on [asking] when are we going to get to Israel? When are we
going to finally get there? After we were in the DP camp a little over two weeks
and had been moved to a second DP camp, then they said, okay, a ship is here,
and we are going to load up the ship. By that time, about twenty-five Americans
had come directly from the United States, and these were all people who had
World War II experience. These were all people who were veterans of the United
States Army, Navy, Air Force. Even women. There were three women who had
been nurses in the United States Army. They had been recruited directly from
America, brought over, and they were also sent to this DP camp. But Frank and
Jack and I were very close-knit because we had come from Paris together, and
these other people were sort of close because they had been trained together in
the United States. Anyway, we were all put on this ship called the Panyork. Of
my entire experience, the Panyork was probably the most unusual concentrated
experience. It was a Panamanian fruit ship, and they had taken the holds that
had carried bananas and just built shelves, three different rooms in each hold.
There were two or three holds. You would go down these steep ladders at about
a seventy-degree angle, made out of wood, just nothing but lattice practically, at
a slight angle. You would get down into this hold, and then they had built shelves,
three tiers high for people, about six feet deep. Everybody was given about as
much space as there was width of his body, or her body.
There were not very many women, but there were women aboard, too. Because
not many women survived the Holocaust. That is not quite known. And the
Israelis were looking mainly for men because they had to get people who could
fight, too. We were just stuffed like logs into this shelving, and that was going to
be our place. The only air that came down was ... the old ships had periscopes
[deck ventilators, in the shape of an inverted "L"]. You see, these old ships with
periscopes on the top deck. Air just would blow in, in those periscopes, down into
the holds to give some ventilation for the bananas. Well, these were people, and
each one of these levels of rooms had one lightbulb in the middle. And stank. I
mean, God. And there was no water for bathing, or even drinking, as far as that
is concerned. This ship was built to carry a crew of thirteen, never built to carry
people, and they put 2,800 people on this ship. There were no bathrooms,
obviously, except for the thirteen crewmen that they built a hole [for], so what
they did is they had built latrines, ten-holers out over the edge of the deck. So, on
the top deck, you saw what looked like an outhouse, we would call it on the farms
in Virginia. An outhouse, a very long, narrow outhouse that had ten holes cut in it.
If you had to defecate or pee, you just went supposedly into this thing, and when
you did it, it just fell out into the water.
P: You would not want to go during bad weather, would you?
L: Well, you would not want to go ... you know, it is funny. I grew up modestly. I
mean, I was in Boy Scouts, I forget to mention. I was also an Eagle Scout. I
became an Eagle Scout at the age of fifteen, and I went to Boy Scout camp. In
fact, my first Boy Scout troop was at the First Methodist Church, and then my
second one was at the First Baptist Church and I became junior assistant
scoutmaster at the First Baptist Church. Of course, the synagogue could not
have a Boy Scout troop. There were only two of us, almost one or two of us in
any one class. There were not enough Jewish kids. In fact, I will not call it the
high point of my life, when I was junior assistant scoutmaster, bringing my little
charges in for Boy Scout Sunday at the First Baptist Church and leading them in
singing "Onward Christian Soldiers." Anyhow, that is growing up in Danville,
Virginia. But this was horrible. It was five days.
P: Were you having second thoughts at this point?
L: No, never. I never had any second thoughts. I tell you what, just before I stepped
on the gangplank going in, it was like okay, at any point I could have turned back
in the DP camps, but when I got ready to put my foot on that gangplank, I knew
that was it. I mean, it was like when I was little and we would dare each other to
jump off of the high roof or something like that. I really had the ability, and I
recognized strong and weak points about myself, I could take myself and fling
myself off that roof, knowing that once I got off there was no going back. It was
the same thing, and I posted a letter to my parents-I had written them a long
letter-telling them what I was doing and why I was doing it just before I got
aboard the ship. When I stepped on that gangplank, I knew there was no turning
back. The ship itself was the most horrible experience probably of my whole life,
for many reasons. First, burning hot. By that time, it was early August in the
Mediterranean. This ship had, I think, maybe two lifeboats. 2,800 people. If that
ship had gone down, 2,800 people would have been dead. The few women with
children who were aboard, it was so hot in the holds that they put up Army
blankets on the top deck and made tents for the sun, and they stayed out on the
top deck for five days. The rest of us were either underneath, or we could come
up on deck. But to wash, when I say wash, there was a saltwater, only saltwater
for washing. We got two cups of water a day, one bowl of soup, a can of sardines
and hardtack. I do not think I have ever told this because it is really indelicate.
The first time I had to move my bowels, I went into one of these ten-holers, and it
turned out to be unisex. The DPs, the displaced persons, they had lived under .
I mean, this was probably good compared to the experience that they lived on
[during the war]. There was crap all over. You know, people crapped all over the
wood, the seats and everything else like that. The place stank. I walked into that
situation, and just as I got ready to take my pants down, this old woman came in
and squatted down right next to me. I pulled up my pants and [left]. I actually did
not move my bowels for five complete days, and I urinated only once, only one
time in five days, and that one was in the dead of night over the stern of the ship,
When I look back at it, I say, how in the world could any human being have gone
that long without doing that? All I can say was, all of the moisture was coming out
of the pores of my skin. I really did not have to do much, and of course I was not
ingesting very much food either. It was also our job once a day, because we
were the Americans and more civilized, I suppose, to clean up the latrines and
everything. They would bring out these fire hoses, and we would then go to work
on those ten-holers and just hose them down to wash all the muck and crap and
everything out. It was one hell of an experience.
P: Give me your feelings when you first set foot on Israeli soil.
L: I was going to say, when the boat finally, five days later on August 14, 1948,
came into harbor at Haifa, it was a beautiful experience. Here was this rusty old
tub, 2,800 people. You could see these white buildings up on the hills. We came
into harbor, and it was a very thrilling experience. Of course, even though I had
been a Zionist all my life, I knew nothing about Palestine or what it looked like or
anything like that. I mean, unless you have actually seen any place, you really do
not have a good image from pictures and everything. The ship pulled up. It was
during daylight hours, and the ship pulled up to dock. Then, we knew that the
U.N. observers were sitting there waiting to maybe even examine us. I did not
know how to speak Yiddish. My parents both knew how to speak Yiddish, but I
had German and so could converse somewhat with the displaced persons who
spoke Yiddish. I could use rudimentary German to converse with them, but really,
I did not speak Yiddish fluently. They were worried about all of us passing muster
there. A little tugboat came up on the other side of the ship, and they put a rubber
mat down on it. They had all twenty-eight of us jump down on the other side of
the ship onto that tugboat that could not be seen by the U.N. observers. They put
us into the hold of the tugboat, and the tugboat chugged on to another dock and
we got out. So, we never had to go before the U.N. observers. At that point, I got
my regular name back, not my passport, but I was not Zerch Itzcovitch any
We were first taken to a kibbutz where we got good food and washed and went
to the bathroom and everything, for me the first time in five days. That same day,
we were taken to an induction camp called Telavinskia, an old British army
camp right outside of Tel Aviv. To make a long story short, I was at this induction
camp for five days. Then, because I knew how to drive, I had been driving since
the age of twelve. In Virginia in those days, you could get your learner's permit at
twelve and your regular driving license at thirteen, so I had already been driving
for five years. They were desperate for drivers. Very few Israelis, certainly none
of the DPs, knew how to drive. So, they put me into what they called an armor
unit, the 79th armored regiment. It had American half-tracks and Israeli-made
armored cars. No tanks. It was called an armored unit, but it had no tanks. They
immediately started training me to drive an American half-track, a very heavy
weapon with about eight forward and four reverse gears. It was really used by
the United States during World War II as a personnel carrier, but it was open on
the top and armored on all four sides. Five days later, my unit went to combat for
the first time. I had been in Israel for ten days, in this armored unit for five days,
and I went into combat for the first time. It was really an amazing experience.
P: One of the problems, as I understand, was the lack of equipment, ammunition,
L: Right. I had a German rifle with a German eagle on it, and I had never fired that
rifle before I went into combat. It was small arms, largely. We had Israeli-made
mortars. They had bought a lot of light machine guns from Czechoslovakia.
Czechoslovakia had sold Israel a lot of stuff. So, we had bullets and rifles and
Israeli-made Sten guns, a very primitive type submachine gun, and that was it. It
was a small army. We had no artillery. The only artillery we ever had was a light
artillery piece we captured from the Syrians and then used against them the next
day in my unit. We had mortars, light machine guns, [and] rifles, and that was it.
P: No tanks and very little air support?
L: There were three tanks, two tanks that British soldiers had deserted with and one
that they had gotten scrapped that the British had left behind, one Sherman
[American tank] and two Cromwells [British tank]. We had one armored unit that
was in the South, and those three tanks were given to the armored unit in the
P: Describe briefly your combat experience
L: The first time we went into combat was just a skirmish. What happened was my
unit was stationed above Haifa near a place called Acre-in Hebrew, it is ACCO-a
very ancient trading port town north of Haifa. Again, we were on an old British
army base. The British at one time had 100,000 men stationed in Palestine, right
after World War II. My unit being the only motorized unit in the entire north,
whenever a fire fight broke out anywhere on the northern border, that is,
Lebanon, Syria, or towards Jordan in the north, or they had what they called the
Palestine Liberation Army also, whenever a fire fight broke out, the men on the
front lines would then call for help from the armored unit. We could then be
dispatched. It was like the firemen's brigade. We could be dispatched to go
anywhere to help them out. We had two armored car companies and then two
companies of halftracks. Each half-track company carried eight men. They called
them commandos, which is ridiculous [because] they were not. In other words,
really motorized infantry, that is what I did. I drove one squad of motorized
infantry. We could be anywhere within a few hours. That is what it amounted to.
That night, a fight had broken out, and it was even during a truce. A truce was
still on. The fight had broken out, and we went in at night. Bullets were going all
over the place, and here I was sitting there in a half-track. If you have never seen
one, they are open on top. Not like personnel carriers today that are closed all
over. We were going through these hills, and people were taking potshots. I said,
my God, any moment one of those bullets is going to come in. But the Israelis
who were there did not seem to be ... they were sleeping and doing everything
else. Boy, I was sitting there scared to death practically. I mean, I was frightened.
Looking back at it, I was relatively safe because I was in an armored vehicle, and
it was a small-arms war. There was no artillery used against us. It was just
always bullets, machine-gun bullets or rifle bullets, whizzing by and sometimes
pinging against your half-track, but nothing ever seemed to come down inside,
with mine anyway. There were a number of little skirmishes like that. The biggest
action I was in, and I am very proud of it, at the end of October my unit
spearheaded the assault against the Syrians, Lebanese, and Iraqis that cleared
the entire northern Galilee. Up until that time, the whole central part of Galilee
was controlled by the Arabs and came all the way down to just above Haifa. My
unit then went off to Mount Canaan. We spent several nights at Mount Canaan
near Zefat. Then the truce was over. Fights erupted again. My unit, because it
was motorized and armored, headed out first and, in two days, cleared the entire
northern Galilee. I am very proud of that, and I have gone back several times and
visited those sites. We had only three people in our unit killed, probably at least
one of them by friendly fire because there was no such thing as basic training.
You know, you trained in between fighting. It was a fantastic experience. It was
an experience that I would say really defined my life in a sense because it made
me different. I have not gotten up to my teaching and all the other stuff, but no
matter what...of course, I will not get into too deep, but my parents went crazy.
When they got that letter from me, the first thing they did was they went up to see
the Israeli ambassador in Washington to try to get me back, said I was underage
and all this other stuff. But by that time, I was within the jaws of the bureaucracy
and the army, and those things, there was no extricating [me]... not only that,
the ambassador told her that he would not get me back unless I wanted to come
back, that he had done the same thing when he left Turkey in World War II,
joined the British Army or something like that. There was never any pressure on
me to get out until I was ready to be discharged.
P: When was that, and why did you decide [to leave]?
L: Towards the end of December, the war was really all but over. They were giving
anybody who was in college a chance to leave if they wanted to, to get back for
the spring semester of school. They gave me that opportunity, and I was
discharged on December 24, 1948. Again, given my passport back but with a
special visa. My passport was so screwed up. In those days, you had to have a
visa for every country. I came into France as Ralph Lowenstein, and I left France
as Zerch Itzcovitch. My passport showed an entrance visa stamped to France, no
exit. It never showed an entrance to Israel, and yet I was leaving from Israel, so
they gave me a detachable visa. We were put aboard a ship called a marine
carp. It took two weeks to get back to New York. The immigration service people,
customs and immigration, were there on the ship to meet us. They came out by
tug to meet us. We were all waiting for the worst because we had violated the
provisions. In fact, our passports had even been stamped that year, not valid for
travel to a foreign country for purposes of serving in a foreign army, because
America wanted to stay not only neutral but no arms could come. America had
an arms embargo. I had violated that, and I knew I had violated it but did not give
a damn, really.
People say, oh my God, you could have almost lost your citizenship, to me,
which is a ridiculous question because if you have got something that you are
willing to give your life for, citizenship really is something sort of secondary,
truthfully. I mean, if it is something that is important enough that you are willing to
give your life for, you are not going to not do it because you might lose your
citizenship. In fact, the State Department years later ruled that our citizenship
was suspended for the entire time we were there. So, say for six months or so, I
was not a citizen of the United States. If I had been captured, I could claim no
rights as an American citizen. These immigration people were there on the ship,
and they knew there would be about fifteen to twenty of us on the ship coming
back. They could have given us all kinds of fits because every passport was
screwed up. However, they had been informed by the State Department or
somebody, do not give these boys a hard time. All of us were in our early
twenties. I was the second youngest. When I got there, I was the youngest
American. By the time I left, I was the second youngest. There was one guy two
months younger than I who came in, but the others were all veterans of World
War II. They turned to the last page. They did not even look at our passports.
They took the passports, these immigration people, turned to the last page,
stamped it and gave it back to us. But it was a very, very proud experience,
because only about 1,000 Americans served in that war as volunteers. 60
percent served in the Air Force, and so I figured only about 200, maybe, out of
the entire 1,000 ever saw combat, because many were in support type things.
And I was one of those, and I feel very lucky.
P: How did your parents react when you got home?
L: When I got home, they were very proud about it, obviously, but they were very
unhappy when I was there. But they were very proud about it because, in fact, it
was unique. Almost for the rest of my life, almost everybody that I have ever
known has never met anybody who served in the Israeli army in 1948--any
American. You have to figure, out of 5,000,000, there were only 1,000 who did
that, and out of those 1,000, only 200 ever really saw combat.
P: Once you got back, you went back to Columbia?
L: I was still in my sophomore year. I had missed one semester. I went in the
summer two summers and made up the work and graduated with my class. So, I
never missed a beat. I was eighteen when I left. I was still eighteen when I
returned because my birthday was in March. I was still eighteen years old when I
returned, and I rejoined everything. By that time, I was determined not to go into
medicine, and I began working on the Columbia Daily Spectator. I moved up over
the years as a reporter, city editor, moved up through the leadership and finished
as associate editor of the Columbia Daily Spectator. I then decided to go to the
graduate school of journalism at Columbia when I graduated in 1951. Three of us
were admitted to the graduate school of journalism from Columbia, from
undergraduate, and I was one of those three. I got my master's degree in nine
months. That was the way they did it in those days. You still went to school from
9:00 to 5:00, and there was no thesis. I graduated from there in 1952. The
Korean War was on. Nobody wanted to hire me because I was of draft age. I
went to work for my hometown paper from May until September, the Danville
Virginia Register got really great experience, a very small little paper. I
think the morning had a circulation of 1,300, and the afternoon 1,100.
P: Let me go back to your Columbia experience. What faculty members influenced
L: I have looked back at that. I have very few role models as such. That is the thing,
people always have role models. I had very few role models. I think most things
that happened to me happened by fate, but if I look at Columbia people who
influenced me, I had one person. Even though I had Mark Van Doren who was
one of the great teachers and others like that at Columbia, the person whom I
admired the most was a man named Andrew Chiappe. He taught English and
Shakespeare, and he happened to be my advisor also. I did not want to be like
him, but the guy was a great teacher. You know, when you look back and you
say, how many great teachers? I have had three great teachers in my career.
Two were at Missouri. Only one was at undergraduate, this Andrew Chiappe. I
would say I had a terrific education at Columbia, but no one that really stands
out. In the graduate school of journalism, really good teachers. John
Howenberg, who just died two week ago, was one of them.
P: You did go to journalism school with some rather illustrious compatriots, did you
L: There were a lot of good people.
P: Max Frankel and people like him?
L: Well, no. See now, David Wise who became the Washington correspondent of
the Herald Tribune was the editor, but what was odd was the class under me.
Three of those guys worked under me. I was the senior, and they were juniors.
Max Frankel, who later worked on the Columbia Daily Spectator, was a friend,
but he was in the class below me. Became the editor of the New York Times.
Lawrence Grossman became president of PBS and was also president, I think,
of NBC News at one time. The third one was Richard Wald, Dick Wald, who
became the executive vice president of ABC News. The fourth person who was
in the class below me, although he did not work for the Spectator was Roone
Arledge, who then went to work for ABC. Those four guys became very big, but
they were all friends.
P: Talk about your experience at Danville. You had to do a little bit of everything,
obviously, as a reporter. How did that influence your later career?
L: Danville was terrific experience because at journalism school, you worked on one
story all day long. When I got to Danville, at the Danville Register, you worked
from 6:00 at night until 2:00 a. m. in the morning. I was the wire editor, the sports
editor, and essentially the city hall reporter. There was only a five-person staff.
So, I had to turn out anywhere from fifteen to twenty stories a night, some very
small and everything like that, but you learned to work with very great speed and
on the telephone primarily. It was fantastic experience. About half the summer, I
worked for the Bee. The Bee was the afternoon paper, and then you had to be at
work at 6:00 in the morning and work until 2:00 in the afternoon. Again, you
worked very hard, very much on deadline, on that paper, and it was extremely
good experience. I worked there until I was drafted into the Army on September
Incidentally, I had written all of my life. There has been no time, even when I
have been a teacher, that I have not been writing or doing radio things. Looking
back at my entire career, there was never any blank spots. I wrote a weekly
column the entire two years I was in the Army, for the Danville Register. It would
appear every Sunday morning, and it was like "Our Boy at Camp." I would write
about army life, a column about that, and it had a big following in Danville. Then
the day after I was discharged-I was first stationed at Camp Breckenridge,
Kentucky, near Evansville, Indiana, actually. I was kept on as cadre there. After
basic training, I was kept on for two more cycles as supply sergeant, actually, to
run the supply room. Then I was transferred to Fort Bliss, Texas, in July of 1953.
That was again a very unusual experience in that I was sent to integrate the last
all-black army unit in the United States Army. Every other unit had been
integrated by then, and this was a completely black army unit. It was called the
261st Signal Construction Company. Having grown up in a completely segregated
society ... of course, we knew blacks, but we did not go to school with blacks,
blacks were not our friends, we did not socialize with blacks. They were in a
subservient position in Danville, obviously, and here I was sent in to integrate.
They were shipping out blacks and shipping in whites. My roommates were
black, and I got to know blacks really quite well.
P: How many whites?
L: How many people, do you mean, all together? I guess there were really, maybe,
200 or 300 people in the army unit.
P: So you were not the only white?
L: Oh no, not at all. They were shipping out 60 percent of the blacks so there would
be no more than 40 percent black. That meant they were shipping 150 or so
P: Did you find that any of the blacks had anti-Semitic views?
L: No, not at all. In fact, that is unusual. What is unusual about it is that blacks really
considered me white. Blacks never considered Jews very much Jews as such. I
mean, yes, they had a feeling whether they were Jewish, but blacks did not have
the same anti-Semitism, in those days. That was before the Nation of Islam and
stuff like that. They did not really know much about Judaism. As far as they were
concerned, I was just white.
P: You left the service and then went to work for the El Paso Times. Talk about your
L: I went to work there because... if I look back at my life, I would say that my life
has been governed by fate rather than aggressive ambition. I think that is my
fatal flaw. I have never really had a tremendous amount of ambition, except to
get something accomplished. You know, if I wanted to get something
accomplished, I got it accomplished, but I did not think about going to work for
the New York Times or the Cincinnati Enquirer or whatever. By that time, I had
met Brania, my future wife. She was going to what was then called Texas
Western College in El Paso. So she was there. She was just a junior in college
by that time, in her next-to-last year of college, and so I went down and applied to
the El Paso Times. They hired me, and I went to work for the El Paso Times,
probably thinking I would be there two or three years and then go on to some
other place once Brania graduated, and ended up spending about twelve years
there. I worked for the El Paso Times and then, by accident, got into teaching.
They needed somebody to teach journalism at the Texas Western College
Journalism Department, which only had two people in the department. Again,
that was good experience. At El Paso, again, I worked on stories. I won a first
place award for the best series of stories written in Texas, the entire state, and
won the Austin Headlines Club Award.
P: What were those stories about?
L: This one story that won so many awards was about separated families. In fact,
oddly enough, I am responsible, indirectly, for a major change in immigration and
naturalization law. There are thousands and thousands of families that have
been joined in this country, thanks to me. They do not know that, of course, but
what happened was that a Catholic priest came in to the paper and told the
managing editor about a situation where one part of the family was on the
American side of the border and the other one was in Juarez, which is right
across, because of a violation of Immigration and Naturalization Service law, too
complicated to go into, [but] one partner was prevented from ever coming in
under the McCarran-Walter Immigration Act [Cold War-era law tightly restricting
immigration to the U.S.], was barred forever from coming into the United States.
So, I took this family and wrote about it, and it appeared on Mother's Day. I
showed how two families were separated on Mother's Day, and the children were
separated. The story got so much of a response that I then wrote a series of
stories about it. It was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. It was picked up, they had
a television program with Ben Gazzara, called The Big Story, a nationwide
network program. It was picked up, and an actor played me, Ralph Lowenstein,
in this, and it was shown all over the United States just like any other series that
you would see. I think it was on NBC. It was sponsored by Pall Mall cigarettes,
called The Big Story. You might remember it from many, many years ago.
So much pressure, because of this series of articles, was put on the Immigration
and Naturalization Service that they instituted for the first time a provision called
indefinite parole. These people, by law, they had committed perjury. I put that in
quotes. But in order to reunite these families, the Immigration and Naturalization
Service could bring them in on parole. They had only used that to let somebody
in Juarez, Tijuana or whatever come in to the funeral of a parent, and then they
would have to go right back. But because of the pressure of these articles, they
said okay, you can come in on indefinite parole, and if you do not violate any law,
you can stay here forever. They brought all the Hungarian refugees in on that.
They brought many Cubans in under that provision. They brought thousands,
literally thousands, of families on both sides of the Mexican border in.
P: What makes a good reporter?
L: I think first, an ability to write correctly and write rapidly. Empathy; I think
empathy is extremely important. That is one thing I really had in large amounts
for some reason in my background. I am not sure exactly what it was. A
tremendous amount of empathy, an ability to put yourself in somebody else's
shoes and to see a story, a life, from their point of view, not from yours, because
you are writing from their point of view. I think I was a good reporter, and I was
also a photographer. I had learned photography at Columbia, a very brief course
from a New York Times photographer, and so I was a reporter-photographer. I
covered vast areas of west Texas. I would go out on trips. They would send me
out with a Speed-Graphic camera, and I would just be sending in stories and
features. I found I was very good at feature-writing. I was extremely good at
feature-writing, and I could take my own pictures. So when I went off to teach, by
accident, and did not plan to spend that long in it, I could do everything. I had
four preparations one semester and four completely different preparations. I
taught eight to ten different preparations every year. I designed and built the
darkrooms at Texas Western College. It was sort of funny, later, when I came
here as dean at the University of Florida, this big school-remember, I started in a
two-person journalism department at Texas Western-I had taught everything that
any teacher here had taught. I had taught it poorly, not well, but I knew
everything. I had taught advertising, public relations, every area of journalism,
even photo-journalism. So, it really made me almost uniquely equipped to take
over a huge college like this because I was not nearly as good a teacher as most
of the people who were specializing in those areas, but I had a feel for what they
were teaching. I knew something about public relations education. I knew
something about advertising education. I knew photography. I knew every aspect
of journalism. I had even done book reviews on radio at the University of Missouri
when I was teaching there, which endeared me to the broadcasting faculty. So,
they knew that I understood what they were teaching, and to give them credit for
doing a hell of a lot better than I could ever do, but I understood what they were
P: How would you say reporting has changed from the time you did it to the present
L: There are two ways it has changed, I think. People are not as well-grounded in
grammar, spelling, and some of the basics, which really hurts. There is spell-
check, [and] yes, it helps, but the number of errors that one sees in even good
newspapers; grammatical spelling errors [are] appalling and, I think, hurts
credibility tremendously. That is one thing that has changed. The big thing that
has changed, and I think it is a mistake, but there is no way that journalism
schools can do anything about it, is the emphasis on what we call the anecdotal
leads. We used to have the inverted pyramid. Except for feature stories, which
were clearly labeled, you would write a story with the most important thing first
and then goes down to what we call the inverted pyramid so you could chop off
the last part. Today, they think they have to compete with television and make it
more human, so reporters are taught to write with anecdotal leads. Instead of
saying, a raging fire destroyed five buildings yesterday in downtown Gainesville,
they will start off a story saying, Jasper J. Jones was enjoying his ice cream cone
yesterday afternoon when he saw fires licking up in the distance. And very often,
especially with inexperienced reporters, which most reporters look like to me, you
know, quite young, these anecdotal leads are editorials. Not news stories. Again,
it hurts the credibility. My daughter was appointed to the city council at Ann
Arbor, last week as a matter of fact. An unexpired term. She is an attorney there,
and she was appointed to the Ann Arbor, Michigan, City Council. The lead on the
story went like this: The lure for the Democrats was too great. That is way the
story began, and then it went on to say that the Democratic majority, even though
this was a Republican ward, the Democratic majority named a Democrat to the
city council rather than a Republican. But imagine, the lead said, the lure was too
great for the Dem[ocrats] ... I mean, that is an editorial. That is the kind of thing
you would find on the editorial page. And that goes on every day in the
Gainesville Sun or any other paper in the country.
P: What about increasing errors of fact?
L: Well, they have done surveys on credibility-they are very concerned because the
credibility is so low-and at the top of the list, what people find most incredible, or
[what] hurts the credibility of the newspaper, are errors in grammar, spelling, and
in fact. This is at the top of the list. Again, that is not so much the fault of the
reporter because people are going to make mistakes. But papers always had
editors who knew the town, who knew the history of the town in every respect,
and went over everything carefully and corrected these. The problem in most
newspapers today is that the editors themselves are not experienced enough to
catch the errors from the inexperienced reporters. So, I do not always blame the
reporters because sometimes, you know, you may make a mistake. A person's
name may be spelled Smith. He said, this is Mr. Smith, so you write your story S-
M-I-T-H. Well, this guy is one of the most prominent people in town, and he
spells his name S-M-Y-T-H. You know? If somebody's name is Smith, you do not
say, would you mind spelling your name? But, an editor would know that, a good
editor. Nowadays, you find that the editors do not ever catch these errors.
P: There is also this sense that the public sees newspapers as no longer
information but as entertainment.
L: Again, there is a lot of entertainment. There is a lot of information still in the
paper, but there is a lot of entertainment, too. I read the New York Times every
day, still the best paper in the world. There are very few errors, and there is very
little entertainment, as such. I would say that today, a person really has to get his
news from more than one source. When you are dealing with local news, of
course, you do not have more than one source. That is the real problem. Getting
down to local news, there are no multiple sources. It used to be that every radio
station was required to do news to get its license. Under [President] Reagan, that
was deregulated. Even in Gainesville, were it not for the journalism school here,
there would be no station providing news on radio.
P: Another problem that readers have, when newspapers make errors, they make
an error on the front page and they correct it on page sixteen. People often feel
like they have not accepted their responsibility for correcting the error so
everybody sees it.
L: That is true. If it is a gross error, it probably should be corrected where everybody
would see it, but what newspapers have tried to do is have a corrections
[column], like on page two, so that every day you can look on page two and see
something that is going to be corrected. But you are right about that. If there is a
big error on page one, the correction probably should be on page one.
P: Also the issue is that they make only a few corrections out of, perhaps, 200 or
L: They make the ones that are brought to their attention. Let us put it that way. You
and I know that these are errors, but they do not know that they are errors.
Nobody calls them up and says this is an error, or it may be an error that is
inconsequential. In other words, we know it is an error, but they say well, it is not
big enough to bring it to anybody's attention.
P: You left Texas Western and El Paso and entered the Ph. D. program at Missouri.
Why did you decide to do that?
L: It is really quite interesting. I had taught there [Texas Western] and actually got
tenured and was promoted to associate professor, and I was still really quite
young. I began teaching part-time when I was twenty-six, full-time when I was
twenty-seven. I had a master's degree, so I was an associate professor of
journalism, but I began noticing that people were coming down the pipe with
Ph.D.s from Billy [Ray] Hargis University [radical right-wing Texas preacher]-I am
just exaggerating-and really, I had two strong degrees from Columbia University
but yet with a Ph.D. you had more chance for advancement than I thought I was
probably going to have. My ambitions probably were not to stay forever at Texas
Western College, but along with it, I had a boss. As I said, there were only two of
us in the journalism department and there was one in broadcasting.
We had a journalism/broadcasting department of three people. It was John
Middagh, who was the co-chairman of journalism, and there was Virgil Hicks,
who was also the co-chairman of the department, and he taught all the
broadcasting courses. I was a tenured associate professor, and I taught
journalism. My boss, John Middagh, was a very nice person and a good friend,
but he was an alcoholic. John started drinking at 6:00 in the morning. He kept a
bottle out in his car, and he would get this Dos Equis, this cheap tequila
whatever from Juarez. He never was drunk. He was never, ever drunk, never
thick-tongued, never babbling, but it just sort of tranquilized him up all day long.
He later died of cirrhosis of the liver. I would put in requisitions for him to do this
or that, and it would just sit on his desk all day. We were not going anywhere. We
were not doing anything. I was teaching advertising and public relations, and that
was being taught jointly with business administration. The chairman of the
business administration department said look, Ralph, I know you are not happy
over there. What about coming over and teaching business writing and
advertising and public relations and working full-time in business administration?
So, I decided to do that, unwisely, because the next year a guy came in named
George Miller, who was crazy as a hoot owl with a Ph.D. from the University of
Texas and took over for that department, business administration. This guy was,
I mean, I am saying this almost for the record-I think he is dead now-every day
there was a memo in your box. Every morning you would come in and he would
have a memo in every faculty member's box, and this was a larger department,
telling them what they had to do that day. I was a total fish out of water. I was
away from journalism. To make a long story short, what set me off totally was I
got a call one day in late 1964. He said, Mr. Lowenstein? And I said yes. He said,
this is George Wise. I am the president of Tel Aviv University. We want to build a
journalism department at Tel Aviv University, and the people at Columbia
University have recommended you. Could you fly down to Mexico City tomorrow
to see me and talk about it? I said, Mexico City? He said, yes, come down to
Mexico City. By that next day, we had parked our children with our in-laws who
lived up to New Mexico. My wife is from a small town of 200 [people], I should
mention, in New Mexico called La Mesa. They were the only Jewish family in
town. We had parked our kids with my in-laws up in La Mesa, and we were on an
Aeronaves Mexico plane to Mexico City where George Wise put us up at an
intercontinental hotel. He wanted me to pick up roots, pick up everything and
leave. This was in August. He wanted, by October, for me to have sold my
house and be over in Israel for the beginning of the term to start a journalism
program at Tel Aviv University.
Brania and I agonized over it for about three days that we were down in Mexico
City, and I decided no way. I did not have a Ph. D. They had sort of a British
Germanic university system at Tel Aviv University, that would eat me alive
without a Ph. D. degree. I would love to do it. We would love to go to live in Israel
to see what it would be like, but I just could not do it. I turned that down, telling
them that maybe in the future I would do it. That phone call, combined with
George Miller, who was literally off-the-wall, and John Middagh, who was an
alcoholic, forced me out of a rut because my roots were already deep. I was on
the synagogue board. I was in the community. I had helped get through the first
anti-discrimination ordinance protecting blacks, the first one in the South, even
before the Civil Rights Act of 1963, I think, or whatever it was. All these things.
My roots were really deep in the community, and we had lived there for so long,
ten years, which seemed like a long time. All these factors together said, we got
to pick up stakes and leave. This was 1965. I was also working on a novel in the
summers about my Israeli experience, but novelized.
P: Why did you pick Missouri?
L: I picked Missouri because it was either Iowa or Missouri. I wanted to go to a
place that had pragmatic training. My background in journalism was pragmatic. I
am a pragmatic person. My master's degree was very pragmatic writing, not
theoretical. Both of those had the kinds of programs that I wanted. Iowa was
awfully cold, I thought. Missouri was going to be cold, too. I am from the South.
But there was a wonderful person at the University of Missouri named Earl
English, the then dean. He wrote me a letter, and sight unseen-I did not even go
up for an interview or anything-sight unseen, he wrote me and offered me a
graduate assistantship teaching reporting because I was quite an experienced
reporter and I had been teaching reporting for ten years also. So, we decided to
go to Missouri, and I am glad we did. It was just a wonderful experience.
P: The University of Missouri always has had a reputation as one of the best
L: Right, and it still is. It was a very good journalism school and still is, and the
faculty was marvelous. From the very beginning, when we first went up that
summer of 1965, they treated me like a faculty member. Actually, they never
treated me like a student, even though I was a student. I was then thirty-five
years old. They treated me and my family like a faculty member. I loved the
people, the faculty members. There were a lot of social occasions we got
together, and they liked me. I taught reporting when I first got up there. By the
end of that summer, a man named Paul Fisher, who was the head of the
University of Missouri Freedom of Information Center, offered me the job as
publications editor at the center, working half-time. It did not pay any more
[money], but I recognized that there would be no paper grading, no lectures to
prepare, and that I could concentrate on my own work. I could work a half a day.
I had to work from 8:00 to 12:30 every day, and I had several other graduate
students working under me, but it was a better deal for [the] use of my time.
P: At this point, it is clear you have decided that you want an academic career.
L: Even at Texas Western, at that time, I had ten years invested in teaching and I
thought I was getting old. I was in my mid-thirties. I could have gone out to law
school or something like that, but I liked teaching very much. In fact, I loved
teaching. I decided that was going to be my career. I needed a Ph.D. degree. I
really got the Ph.D. in what is an embarrassing speed. I set a record for getting
my Ph.D. in two years and three summers, and that is with working half-time,
fully working half-time. I took the job under the provision that I would be allowed
to take a full graduate load of twelve hours. They allowed me to take a full
graduate load. In addition to that, that first year, I was finishing my novel. I was
also doing two languages.
You had to do two languages in those days at Missouri. You got no credit for
those. There was no course credit for those. I wanted to do German, which I had
in college years before. I wanted to do Hebrew, which I knew somewhat. I
thought I could pass the tests in that. Hebrew was not on the list, so they sent me
to see the graduate dean, Dean Bent, to get permission to do Hebrew as my
second language. Dean Bent refused to give me permission to do it. He said
Hebrew was like Hottentot. It had no merit as a research language. Here they
had archeology [and everything-else] graduate degrees, but in those days you
did not sue anybody, you did not protest. Here the graduate dean told you no,
and by God, that meant no. So, a Korean graduate student, Don Sinu, and I
started working together learning French. We would meet at lunch every day,
and we would take vocabulary cards and we started reading Paris Match
[French periodical]. I managed to learn French on my own doing that. But I ended
up getting my degree in two years and three summers. I had a novel published.
My novel was accepted and published the next year. I ended that career with all
A's, except for two B's, and I was the graduation marshal for all the Ph. D.s when
we graduated. What was funny about it, though, was that first summer. I have
always thought that we have eight cylinders in our bodies somewhere, in our
brains. We have eight cylinders, and most of us use four. Well, that first summer I
was there, I was taking a full graduate load, [and] I was working on two foreign
languages. As we prepared to move up to Missouri, my novel was accepted, but
the editor wanted me to re-write one-third of it. I was doing all of this and re-
writing that stinking novel by October of 1965, which was the deadline for getting
my novel finished. I was absolutely on fumes. I mean, I look back at it and I say,
how can any human being have done what I actually did that summer, plus
getting two young children into a new public school.
P: When you finished your Ph.D., they offered you a teaching position?
L: No. When I finished, Tel Aviv University came back. They still wanted me to
come over there, and we said yes. So, we picked up at the end of the summer of
1967-1 got my degree in 1967-we headed for Israel and a new life at Tel Aviv
University. We had very close friends from my army days and also a whole group
of soldiers who had been stationed at Fort Bliss to learn the HARP Missile while
we were there. They sort of prepared the way and rented a house for us in a
suburb of Tel Aviv, and we began on this great new adventure. My children
entered Israeli public schools, not knowing any Hebrew, the day after we got
P: Did you intend to stay?
L: I think I did. I think I hoped to stay. We loved living in Israel, but the teaching was
a miserable experience. They did everything for me that they said they would do.
Tel Aviv people, the ones we recruited in the faculty, everybody, they were
wonderful. They gave me the pay, they did everything else, but I could not [stay].
First of all, the language was very difficult. I felt like a fish out of water, totally. I
felt that an Israeli should be the head of this journalism program. It was like a
German comes in as the head of the journalism here. It just was not right. I
mean, I was not fluent in the language. Yes, I had served in the army, and so
everybody considered me an Israeli. I mean, the fact that I had served in the
army, everybody deferred to me because of that. But there was no colleagues to
do research. None of the people working under me had Ph. D. degrees, so they
were considered dirt within that system, not by me but within the system itself.
None of my teachers could rise above the rank of instructor because they did not
have Ph. D. degrees. Journalism itself was not a major but was what they called
a hoog, a leaning, so my students had to take two majors, say in psychology or
whatever, international relations, and in addition, journalism. They agreed to do a
lot of things if I stayed there.
I was very happy living but very unhappy working there, and at the end of that
year, Dean English wanted me to come back as an associate professor at
Missouri. We went as fast as our dandy little legs would carry us.
P: When you come back, you start teaching theoretical courses. Is that right?
L: Yes and no. Not really. I actually taught a wide range of courses. I taught a mass
media in society, which there was a basic course that took in a whole range of
what is media. John Merrill and I both taught that course, and we even wrote a
textbook together called Media Messages and Men. And I taught theoretical
courses. I taught graduate-level courses, one in literature of journalism, another
one in controls of information, which had been one of my majors, you know, like
libel and all the various controls that are placed on information, self-regulation,
government regulation, that kind of thing. But I instituted one of the most popular
courses at Missouri called critical reviewing. My students learned how to review
books, television, movies, movie reviewing, and theater reviewing. The big
publishers sent me [catalogs], I would order books, and every student got three
free books every semester. It was one of the few courses at Missouri that there
was a waiting list for the next semester. In other words, I would take no more
than twenty-five students. I was also in charge of the book page of the Sunday
newspaper. We did a citywide newspaper at Missouri, and I was the book editor
of the newspaper. Pragmatically speaking, that was a writing course. The
undergraduate course was a survey course, just as you do in history, and then I
taught the theoretical courses at the graduate level.
P: One of your areas has always been freedom of information, press freedom,
L: That is right.
P: Talk a little bit about that. In fact, you did a study, I believe, on world press
P: What did you conclude as a result of that study?
L: My Ph.D. dissertation was "World Press Freedom as a Political Indicator." This
Ph.D., once it was completed, got worldwide attention. That was another unusual
thing. It was picked up as a news story and run all over the entire world. Almost
every country wrote a story about my Ph.D. dissertation because what I did was,
I designed a way to go out, using both native reporters and foreign
correspondents stationed in every country in the world, to rate press freedom in
every country in the world according to twenty-three different factors. Then I used
computers, one of the first times computers had been used, to arrange this stuff.
I arranged countries into five categories: high degree of freedom, second level,
middle, low, almost no freedom at all. I ranked about ninety-six countries in the
world. I was able in doing this getting at least four judges-I called them judges-in
every single country, at least two-sometimes I had many more than that-foreign
correspondents stationed there. I could then rate these [countries]. Every country
was not ranked by one, two, three, but into one of five categories. So, countries
naturally were excited about printing where they ranked in this. The idea was that
it was such an exciting, unique idea that we would do it every year. We actually
did it one more year, but basically, it would take a staff to do it. No one but a Ph.
D. candidate would devote the amount of time that I did to it, and so we could
really never do it for more than two years.
P: And the original study found the United States something like fifth?
L: The United States, I have forgotten whether they were in the first or second
category, but we were not the highest at all because we had, first of all, libel
laws. Our libel laws are much more strict than a few other countries, and then we
have a lot of security regulations, which is understandable because, like Norway,
what do they have to be worried about? In other words, there are a lot of
countries that do not really have that concern that we do. But the United States
still ranks very high, but not the highest. I think the highest countries were
Denmark, Sweden, maybe Norway.
P: Finland and Switzerland.
P: Who was at the bottom?
L: Of course, at the bottom would be the Soviet Union, the Soviet-bloc countries.
But again, that was according to our standards. If we had used their standards,
we would be at the bottom, and they would be at the top.
P: Where would Israel be?
L: Israel was in the second category, not in the top category. They were in the
second category because of their severe military censorship. Israel, in those
days, had very, very severe military censorship, and so it was understandable.
The United States was in the top category, but Israel was actually in the second
P: Once you finished your stint at Missouri, you ultimately decided to come to be
dean of the school of journalism at the University of Florida. Tell me about how
you made that decision?
L: Again, it was not a decision that I really made in a sense. In one sense, it was.
They were looking for a dean, but I never looked at the employment things. I
thought I would spend the rest of my life at the University of Missouri, truthfully.
We loved it there. We were happy. People liked me. In fact, when I came back in
1968 from Israel, and those were the days when deans could do things like that,
Dean English said look, Ralph, we do not have very many Ph.D. advisors. If you
can make the Ph.D. faculty in two years, I will promote you to full professor. So, I
really broke my butt doing research, writing, getting papers published. A good
number of them in the good quarterlies and everything else like that. In two
years, I made the Ph.D. faculty at the University of Missouri. That was campus-
wide. The masters and Ph.D. faculties were selected on a campus-wide basis,
not by the school itself. So, I made the Ph.D. faculty, and Dean English promoted
me to full professor, just like that. I mean, there were no tenure and promotion
committees in those days. If the dean said you did it, you did it. If he wanted to
can you, he sort of canned you, really. So, I was very, very happy there.
One of my children had just graduated high school. We loved Columbia, and I
thought well, this is where I cash in my chips. And one day, I get a letter from the
University of Florida that says, Dear Dean Lowenstein, we are looking for a dean
here, and your name has been nominated. I later discovered it was Rob Pierce,
who was a faculty member here and who was a friend of mine we would see at
conventions and everything because he taught international relations also. And I
knew Kirk Kent. He taught international relations, and we had been to different
meetings together. He had recommended me. I asked our associate dean and he
said, oh yes, it is a good school. He said, they are underneath the stadium now,
but I understand they are going to build a new building, and I think you ought to
look at it. I said okay.
You know, they are not going to name any Jew to be dean of that school, but
why not? So, I went on and sent in my resume. I did not think a Jew would ever
be named dean of this school, or almost any other school as far as that is
concerned. You know, we are looking at a different era. This was twenty-five
years ago. At the University of Missouri, we had a number of Jewish faculty
members, but no Jew ever rose above the rank of department chair. No Jew was
ever dean there. Now you would say, how could people think that? But that was
just it. Throughout the United States, if you did not go to church with the right
people, there was a sort of, not a glass ceiling, a ceiling there and you just knew.
And it was not like you were resentful or anything like that. You just knew a Jew
was not going to rise above a certain level no matter what his or her talent. So, I
thought this was sort of ridiculous in a way, but then an incident occurred, which
was really rather silly.
I taught at Missouri for eight years, and Roy Fisher was the dean. I had been
elected chairman my last year there of what we called the news editorial
department, but that department had thirty-five faculty members in it and the
responsibilities of making out the schedule. Roy had told me that he was not sure
that he was going to teach a certain course in editorial writing, and I told him I
would leave him off the list. It was due the next Wednesday. If I did not hear from
him by Wednesday, I would assume he did not want to teach that next semester
and we would go on from there. I had another faculty member in a room just like
this, a faculty member standing and talking to me. Roy cracks the door open and
begins to chew me out, said that he had seen the schedule and he was not listed
to teach editorial writing and how dare I leave him off the list? He had completely
forgotten our conversation. The guy totally humiliated me in front of another
faculty member. That had never happened to me in my academic career, in all
these years, and by this time I had been teaching almost twenty years. Nobody
had ever done anything like that to me before. I had never been treated [that
way]. It was just a few minutes, and I was steamed. I came home and I told
Brania, look, I was not taking the Florida job seriously, but if they offer it to me, I
am going to take it. No one is ever going to be in a position to speak to me this
way again, ever in my life. The next day, Roy came in and abjectly apologized.
He remembered that I had reminded him of it, and he apologized, humbled
himself and everything else, but I was so mad and so angry from the experience.
You know, it is odd, these little things that happen, that I was determined, okay, I
am going to go for it. It turned out that they had sent that same letter out to 102
people. I thought I was getting a letter, but they had sent that letter to 102 people.
Then they got it down to five people, and then I was selected.
P: A question that comes up in a lot of the interviews we have done for this project:
is it necessary for reporters and editors to have a degree in journalism?
L: No, not really. However, 85 percent of all the beginning reporters on newspapers
today do have journalism degrees because, obviously, [if] they are interested in
journalism, they are going to go to a journalism school, largely speaking. The Ivy
League schools, except for Columbia, do not really offer journalism education, for
the most part. I think [the University of] Pennsylvania does, but the others do not
really offer journalism. So, what you found there is those people have come up,
as I did, through the newspapers. In other words, they have worked for four years
for the campus newspaper, and they have gotten their experience that way.
Because of the First Amendment, you cannot make a requirement, but most do
have journalism degrees.
P: And what is the major benefit of a journalism degree?
L: I think that you get to work under professors who can really look at your stuff,
correct it, show you the right ethics, how to think about a story, how to go about
doing a story. We do design [and] a lot of things that you do not think about.
Many people now are not even going into reporting. They go into editing, design,
layout. Depending on the personality of the person, they want to do different
things in newspapers, which are specialized these days. Let us take magazines.
You really need to learn how to write for magazines or how to do design and
P: As opposed to a newspaper.
L: And the same, let us say, in broadcasting, which is of course a newer area. It is
equipment-generated now, and you really cannot go to work for a television
station not knowing how to edit film, tape. So, a lot of things are mechanical, but
a person could be a great reporter without ever having gone to journalism school.
P: But you give them a broad-based background, so they learn all these different
P: Do they learn about libel laws?
L: They learn libel laws. If I had any faults, and I had many of them, one was I was
never able to institute a requirement at the University of Florida for a history of
journalism course. At Missouri, it was a required course. I think that people who
are going to spend the rest of their lives in a profession ought to know the history.
It is a course here, but it is not required. I think it is sad that people come out into
the profession and do not know [John] Peter Zenger [one of the first journalists to
seek protection from a libel suit through the First Amendment] and Benjamin
Franklin and Ben Day the things, people who struggled to make American
journalism what it is today. In other words, coming into a profession without any
background in that profession. We do spend more time, though, on ethics and
things like that.
P: When you took over in 1976, what were your immediate goals and what were
your long-range goals?
L: I really did not have a lot of long-range goals except to learn to administer a very
large school. I had been a teacher for twenty years, and I had been an
administrator for six months. Actually, because I was chairman of journalism at
Missouri, a great school, people were, oh, we are getting a chairman. Hell, I only
had six months experience by the time I got the offer here. Basically, I was a
teacher, not an administrator. I said the first two years if I had had a degree in
accounting, I would have been a lot better off than my degree in journalism
because administering a large school like this, a lot became budgeting,
understanding the university budget, where things came from, who was getting
what. I think I played it fairly coolly and just took my time in learning it, but I really
faced an immediate crisis. One of the things I was expected to do something
about immediately, even though this was already ... I did not make this an
outstanding college. It was already a good school of journalism. Ray Weimer
and Paul Jones, my predecessors, and a good faculty had already done that. I
have gotten credit for a lot that they did, truthfully. It is embarrassing. I get credit
for an awful lot that they had laid the groundwork for. But we had been put on
probation by our crediting authority. We had been put on probation because of
some internecine fight that was going on in the advertising department.
P: The entire school?
L: Right. Well, I have forgotten in those days whether they just put advertising and
public relations on probation, but that was tantamount for the whole school to be
on probation. Really, it was a like a black mark. You are on probation, and you
had better get off of probation in one year or you might lose your accreditation. It
is rather unusual for that to happen to a school, and it is very bad. It is a black
mark. Paul Jones got the credit for letting that happen, to some extent, which
really was not his fault. Here you had a faculty of some, in those days I think,
forty-five, forty-six people, and all the problems were caused by three people.
Three people gave the entire college a black mark because they were having a
knockdown, drag-out fight with each other, and I was expected to do something
about it. That is the first thing that I encountered. To solve the situation with the
acquiescence of the other faculty, of course, we had to have a vote of the faculty.
It was not like the old days of Dean English, where you could do it. The faculty
had to vote.
I decided that what was going wrong was that this was a department that only
had six people in it, and three people could tie it in knots. One was the chairman
who could not handle the situation. I know he is going to be able to read this, and
I hate to tell it, but I want to tell it like it is. Frank Pierce was a very fine teacher
but was a little bit too rigid to handle the situation. He had two faculty members,
Don Holland and __ Loman. He had two faculty members who did not have
Ph. D. degrees and did not get tenure. They were then, through the union,
preparing to sue the university and sue the department, and they were absolutely
raising hell within the department. These people could not be really controlled,
and he was not doing a good job, I think, of handling the situation as it was. So,
my way of handling that was to take...we had two fairly large departments,
broadcasting and journalism. We had two tiny departments in faculty, not in
students. Each department had about 600 students, but those two departments
had a very small number of faculty. So, I said, let us merge advertising and public
relations into one department, they are very closely related. Because, you know,
I had taught in those areas. Let us merge those two departments. We will have a
faculty then, one faculty that is equivalent in size to the other two departments,
and then we would have enough faculty members to outvote those people [the
three malcontents]. That gave me a chance to get in another department
chairman, just to say gracefully, we have got a new department, let us elect a
new department chairman. Well, there was no way they were going to elect
Frank. By a very, very narrow vote, the faculty agreed to do that, even though
this department now had 1,200 students. I mean, an incredible three to six.
Anyway, it became a large number of students to deal with, but what difference
does that make? We still had the same faculty. Jim Terhune was named
department chair, and he was a great administrator. Things got back on the road
again, and we were taken off of probation at the end of the year. That was the
first big crisis that I handled.
P: And one of the first things you obviously had to do, and something you have
done very well, is fund-raising. What did you want to raise money for, and how
did you go about getting the funds?
L: Actually, I got a good reputation in fund-raising. Again, in all honestly, I get more
credit than I deserve. This is not false modesty. I am trying to be brutally honest
here, and I have said this for years. Here were Paul Jones and Ray Weimer, who
do not get the credit that they deserve, and I am getting much more credit than I
ever deserved. What had happened was, when they brought me in, they had a
fund-raising drive for a building program. Gannett [newspaper publishing
company] have given $1,000,000. They pledged $1,000,000 if we could get
$750,000 matched. Well, Paul Jones and Ray Weimer, but primarily Paul Jones,
because Ray was no longer teaching by that time, they had gotten pledges for
around $500,000. I really had to raise $250,000. That was one of my immediate
jobs, so the first thing they started doing was taking me around. I had to
concentrate on how am I going to get $250,000, which seemed to me like an
insurmountable sum in those days. But people liked me. I went around. I spent a
lot of time in fund-raising.
My wife Brania was with me. I would say half the weekends in the year, we were
never here. We went to every convention in the state of Florida held by the
broadcasters, the editors, the publishers, and even the cable association. We
ended up getting the match. Gannett gave us the stock, and with this stock and
the income from that stock, and the stock grew tremendously, it gave me enough
money for an endowment income. Bob Marston, then [University of Florida]
president, did the most wonderful thing for us because the building was a larger
building that was going to cost almost $8,000,000, of which we were going to
provide $1,750,000 and the Board of Regents was going to put in the rest. Bob
went to the Board of Regents and he said, I do not think they need a building that
large. Why don't we reduce the size of the building, including the furnishings, to
$6.3 million and let them keep their $1.75 million as an endowment to really run
that school. The Board of Regents, some of them demurred, but the majority did
something they had never done before: they allowed us not to put our money into
that building, and they paid for the entire building, which cost $6.3 million dollars.
Bob Marston was the first president-he is never given full credit for this-he
understood fund-raising and endowments. Bob Marston set us on the course to
greatness by giving us that endowment. That money, then, allowed me to begin
using that as seed money to collect other money, to start projects that got us
national prestige and things like that. Essentially, that helped an awful lot in the
beginning. That beginning helped. I had met that challenge of raising money, but
by the time I left as dean, I think I raised just, in endowments alone, $22,000,000.
P: Talk about the building of what is now Weimer Hall, School of Journalism. You
had a lot to do with designing the building.
L: I loved it. The architects had already been selected. The spaces, how much
space would be going to each project, had already been done. By the time I got
here in 1976, they were ready to begin designing the building. I was in on that
every inch of the way. The architects really did it. They had people coming down
from Tallahassee, but I could suggest changes. There are a lot of things in the
building that are there because of me. In the next life, I am going to come back
as a building superintendent or an architect because I really loved that aspect of
it. It is really considered one of the finest buildings on this campus and certainly,
still twenty years later, one of the finest journalism education buildings in
America, again, because it is very large building, I think almost 100,000 square
feet or something like that. The big changes that I was responsible for, other than
just how certain rooms were configured, was the architect was going to have two
sheer walls in the balcony facing the Reitz Union, towards the classrooms. And I
said, why? I mean, you got the atrium, the glass top. It rains a lot around here.
Why should people be walking out in the open, and so on? Why not just turn it
around and have the balconies inside the atrium and so people will be dry when
they walk to classes. So, he just turned it around and did that. My other idea was
to put glass windows in every office, in every classroom, in every laboratory, so
there is no room in our building that you cannot look into and walk past it. Now,
faculty members have a little Venetian blind, and they did not like this at all, but I
think we ought to be open. I think the students, when they come by, do not need
to see closed doors. Turlington Hall is one of the worst buildings I have ever seen
in my life, actually, for that. So, it really worked out very well. We have to advise
students a lot in journalism. I mean, a lot of what we do is giving advice. Students
can walk by, and they can see if a faculty member is in. If a faculty member
wants privacy, they can put the Venetian blind down or close it, but they can be
working in quiet and a student can see them and come in if they want to be seen.
The same thing for classrooms. Nobody barges in our building into a classroom
that is in progress because they can look through an open window and see it. If
you look at all of our labs, especially the radio stations, every newsroom and
everything is enclosed in glass. I would bring visitors through a lot as part of
fund-raising and recruiting. People can keep their silence and everything else,
but in the hallways you can see everything that is going on, like an aquarium I
suppose, in that you can see what is going on in that building. That has given us
a lot of mileage because you can see the activity that is going on in the building.
P: Looking back, what would you have changed that you did not change?
L: I think that I still made a big mistake in front of the configuration. There were
certain requirements that I would not have made, [like] two radio newsrooms, one
for WRUF and one for WUFT. I think configuration determines function to some
extent, and, basically, we should have had one news operation where we could
have utilized professionals much better, utilized students much better. Right now,
we have two different news operations, one for WRUF, one for WUFT-FM, and it
is a waste of personnel and not effective in training of students, and, really, we
are not getting as much news out. I would have changed that.
P: Talk about how the radio station and the television station evolved over the
period of time that you have been here.
L: When I came here, there was really only one broadcasting property that we were
responsible for, and that was WUFT-TV. Ken Christianson was the chairman of
broadcasting. He had not started the station, but he came a year after it was
started. It was started in 1958. Ray Weimer really started that station.
P: This was one of the very first in the country, right?
L: Well, it was one of the first, I would imagine. Basically, almost no other school
has an arrangement like ours where the broadcasting stations are part of the
college of journalism. Even at Missouri, they are only in charge of news. The
station is under a vice president for development. But Ray Weimer really got
possession of that station and made a huge difference in the way the college is
run and what we can do with students and everything
P: Was that the purpose of it, to give them practical experience?
L: Right. That was to give students practical experience, but also to provide an
education. In those days, it was educational television, and we did a lot of closed-
circuit work and stuff like that on the campus, teaching courses that way. PBS
really had not come through as an entertainment, you know, elite network as it is
today. But when I came here, there was a faculty, four departments, and WUFT-
TV. The first thing was that WRUF, which had been here since 1928, was up on
the third floor of the stadium building...[End of Side 3, Tape B.] I got the
broadcasting faculty together, and we sat in the dean's office. There was a large
conference table in the dean's office there in the stadium building. They told me
about their responsibilities with WUFT, how the faculty members all taught and
worked as producers and how it started and all this other stuff. And I said, what
about WRUF? I visited WRUF. What is our relationship to WRUF? And they said,
we have no responsibility for WRUF; it is a separate operation. But gee, that is
funny. Bob Leach was then the manager of WRUF-AM/FM, and I asked Bob
He said, well, we are under the broad umbrella of the journalism school, but
actually I do not report to the dean of journalism; I report to Bill Elmore who is the
administrative vice president. I though, gee, that is sort of odd. And I was noticing
up there at WRUF, they were not our students. The news director then was a guy
named Jim Finch, who still is the voice of the Gators. He announces the football
games and all at the stadium over the loudspeaker system. Finch would go out
and get education majors and history majors and whatever. There were very few
journalism students working on either news or production at WRUF, even though
it was in our same building. I really was not annoyed by it, but I was curious
about how that happened. So, I wrote Bob Bryan a letter, who was then the vice
president of academic affairs. I said, I do not really understand the relationship of
WRUF to the journalism school. Would you explain it to me? I get a letter back in
a week from Bob Bryan and he says, Dear Ralph, I have checked with President
Marston, and as far as the administration of the University of Florida is
concerned, the dean of journalism is responsible for all the broadcasting
properties, including WRUF-AM/FM, which means that the dean is in charge of
hiring, firing, programming, budget, use of students, and every other aspect for
those stations. I took this letter up to Bob Leach, showed it to him. Bob Leach
turned ashen, but I have to say this for him.
He became a devoted and loyal administrator, and it worked very, very
well. The other thing that I changed in broadcasting was that the general
manager of WUFT reported to the chairman of broadcasting. Ken Christianson
was the chairman of broadcasting, and the general manager of WUFT-I cannot
remember the man's name-reported to him. Again, this was very awkward
because this guy was an administrator and yet he was reporting to a department
chairman. So, once I got that letter from Bryan, I decided that the best way of
doing was we were going to have four academic department chairs. That is what
I changed the second year I was here. We are going to have four academic
department chairs: advertising, public relations, journalism, broadcasting. We
were going to have two other people on the same level, non-academic chairs.
One would be the general manager of WUFT and one the general manager of
WRUF, because they had to work very, very closely with the chairman of
broadcasting. I got them together, and I told them that was going to be the new
arrangement. They said fine. Ken did not object to this because he wanted to be
rid of it anyway. It was a burden for him to take over the budget and all this. But
the general manager of WUFT said yeah, we are all on an equal level, but what
happens if I have a dispute with the chairman of broadcasting about how
students are going to be used, etc. I said, look, if you ever have a dispute with a
department, if any two of you ever have a dispute, then you bring it to the dean.
In my eighteen years as dean, nothing was ever brought to me. The two people
knew that they had to work out things together, so they worked out things
together. It never came to the point where they ever had to come to the dean to
settle anything. It was really amazing. So, that worked beautifully, because these
people then had prestige as general managers.
My associate dean was first Glenn Butler and then it became Jim Terhune, who
was a fantastic administrator. I asked Jim to be the associate dean and Jim said
no, he would not be the associate dean. I said, why not? I wanted Glenn who
was good at advising to take over a new thing that I started in student advising
center. I wanted him to devote his time to advising students because I really
realized that was a full-time job, and we still have it that way. So, I asked Jim to
take over as associate dean, and Jim said he did not want to do it. I asked him
why, and he said because it has a reputation of just being a flunky job of doing
everything that you do not want to do. I said look, Jim, I am going to give you the
entire state budget; you control the state budget, not me, and I will guarantee you
that the department chairs and the general managers will come to you, not to me.
And that is what happened. I turned over the entire state budget to him. I handled
only the endowment budget.
P: Let me go back a little bit. You still hired and fired the general managers, right?
L: Right, but as I said, we worked out over the years a sort of division of labor. Jim
handled all the academic things, the scheduling, all the academic problems. You
know problems were always brought up, and these student complaints were
always coming to the dean. But generally speaking, Jim handled all the academic
areas, and I took over broadcasting. I handled all of the broadcasting problems.
By that time, we got WUFT-FM, [which] I will tell you about. Jim handled the
academic, and it worked out beautifully. WUFT-FM was the proudest
accomplishment of my eighteen years. People will say, what are you the most
proud about? And I will say, I am most proud of-I will put them in order-number
one, establishing WUFT-FM; number two, establishing a minority center that
really worked that we call the McKnight Minority Center, and the minority
scholarships; number three, establishing the Brechner Center, which I started
back in 1976, really the first year I came here, a freedom of information center;
and number four, establishing what is now called the interactive media lab.
Those four things, I am very, very proud about because they were my
accomplishments, almost nobody else's.
I must say WUFT-FM, which I put first, when I came here, I had been used to a
public station in Missouri. I came here and I was told that to get public radio in
Gainesville, you had to put up a tall antenna and bring in Jacksonville. I could not
believe it. And that our station, WRUF, you know, with beautiful music [and] I
have forgotten what we did. We did classical music on Saturday late at night on
FM, which nobody was interested in FM in those days. So, the first thing I wanted
to do was start an NPR [National Public Radio] station, not because we needed
it. We already had Outlook for our students in use, but because the community
needed it. It was a void in this whole area. I had brought in Dave Bruger as
general manager after the second year of WUFT-TV, and he was another
fantastic person. He later became a vice president of CPB, Corporation for Public
Broadcasting, and for the last twenty years, almost, president of American Public
Television in Washington. Dave was a young guy, but he knew the ins and outs
of the bureaucracy of public television and radio that I did not. Ken Christianson
and Mickey Edwards had done some work on this, but it was not getting
anywhere, years before. I said to Dave, look, we want a public broadcasting
station here. Dave said okay, and he started doing the paperwork. I found the
money. It was sort of complicated, and one time I really took a tremendous risk.
But Dave did the paperwork, and the two of us together, you know, you say
victory has 1,000 fathers, defeat has none. Now, half the people in town say they
started WUFT-FM. The truth of the matter is two people started WUFT-FM, Dave
Bruger and me.
P: How difficult was it to get the license?
L: We thought it was going to be very difficult because we already had three
broadcasting licenses. In fact, nowhere in the country was anybody given more
than three. We thought, well, we have got WRUF, and we will never get another
one. But when we started doing it, we found out that CPB was anxious to give us
a license because this was the last void in the state of Florida. You had public
radio reaching every area of Florida, but when people got to Ocala up to the
Georgia line, zilch, nothing, and people complained about it, used to write into
CPB and even to us and complain about it.
P: What year was this?
L: This was in the late 1970s because we went on the air in 1981. Dave and I
started working on this probably in 1979. To make a long story short, we got all
the paperwork through, the permission, they put up money. The university
agreed to put up a certain amount of money because we then had a special
thing-I have forgotten what it was called-[where] the university could put
money into special projects. Gene Hemp [Administrative Vice President, UF]
agreed to put a good portion of the money that we needed into hiring some staff.
CPB would then put up matching money to hire staff. We came right down to it,
and we were $26,000 short. At that time, our endowment, what we had, was
bringing in about $60,000 a year, but we needed $26,000 on an annual basis. I
committed $26,000 of our endowment, almost half of our endowment income, I
committed to get the station on the air. If the faculty had known, they would have
crucified me. They would have put me up and lit twigs under my body because I
was committing more than half of our endowment income in those days just to
get this station going, and I did not ask them. But I was betting that we could get
the legislature to come through and do that funding instead. In fact, I committed
the money and National Public Radio agreed to it, accepted it. Then later the
next year, the legislature put up that money, so we did not have to put up the
P: How is the station financed now?
L: Beautifully, by fund-raising. We raise more than $1,000,000 a year for all of our
P: You are talking about PBS, NPR, everything?
P: Is there state money involved at all?
L: Yes, the state has certain positions through all the public stations in the state, not
just ours. They give us the same ones that they give to all the others. University
of South Florida has one, and FSU [Florida State University] in Tallahassee, but
the others are not associated with universities.
P: But the state does pay a certain percent of it?
L: The university puts up certain lines, the state sends money down for certain
lines, and some is in soft money from fund-raising.
P: The rest comes from fund-raising.
P: Talk a little bit about another idea you had, teletext, videotext.
L: When I first came here, I had been one of the first persons, believe it or not, in
the United States, to start writing about what is now called the Internet, although I
had no conception of the Internet. However, for what I would call the electronic
newspaper on a television too. Believe it or not, I was probably one of the first
handful of people in the country, strangely enough, to start writing about that. I
taught international relations, international communications. As such, I would
read the Listener, the BBC magazine, every week. The BBC people were already
working with closed-captioning, underneath the screen, long before we were.
Then they decided if they could do that, they could do news on a special channel
with closed-captioning by putting a special device on a TV set. So, I began
Then, the French got into a thing called minitel long before we were doing
anything. So, I began writing about that. In our textbook which was published, I
think, the first time in 1971, Media Messages and Men, I wrote a whole chapter
about the future of journalism, that it would be distributed in that way. I was
actually the first academic in this country to start writing about that. When I would
speak to classes, they were like bughouse fables. I would say to them, most of
you who are not teaching today will end your careers working for an electronic
newspaper. When I came here in 1976, AP interviewed me and I told about the
electronic newspaper, and that is the way journalism was going to go. That is
what they headlined, and they sent it all over the state. People laughed me off
the lot. In fact, Jim Knight, who was the owner of the Miami Herald and the
Knight-Ridder [newspaper company], wrote a letter to somebody, the Board of
Regents or somewhere, that was passed on to me. He took this clipping that was
published in the Miami Herald in which I said, within ten years, newspapers will
be outmoded. Of course, that was totally wrong. It was more like fifty years. But
anyway, he took this story and he said, this guy might be okay for the
broadcasting business or something else, but I do not think he is going to be very
good for the newspaper business. Somebody at the Board of Regents sent it
down to Marston, and Marston sent it to me.
Later, Jim Knight became a very good friend, incidentally, a very good
friend and contributed to the college. But I spoke to classified advertising
directors and said the first thing that is going to go on the Internet-I did not call it
the Internet-is going to be classified advertising, and that turned out to be true.
And they laughed at me like I had come in from Mars. But what I did was start
trying to get that set up here. We were the first journalism school in the country to
start working in this area, the very first, and we were the first school in the
country to do a citywide cable newspaper. We were the first one to set up an
Internet newspaper. We were very advanced in this area. In fact, I have got an
article where I was severely criticized. We had a conference of journalism deans,
and they brought up that I was doing this, and not only that, but we were working
with computers in our labs. I was criticized by the other [journalism deans]. It was
written up in the New York Times that they severely criticized me for spending
time with technology when students really should be taught more substantive
P: What is the future of the electronic newspaper?
L: Things are really evolving. The paper newspaper will be with us for some time,
but I think it is still going to be limited. When I say some time, maybe another
forty years or so. But people are getting more and more of their news in some
form out of the electronic screen. The whole thing awaits wireless. When you
have the ability to retrieve material in a wireless manner, than the newspaper is
on its way out. If you notice what they are doing with books, now all the
publishers are getting into electronic books. Well, it is obvious that you are going
to have a little pad that is the electronic newspaper as well, once it is wireless.
P: That way you can still have your cup of coffee and read the paper.
L: Go to the bathroom, go to the toilet and read it, you can read it on the subway,
this is the thing. What we have got now is not portable.
P: What is the advantage of that? Obviously cost is less, less paper.
L: First of all, three-quarters of the cost of a newspaper today is the paper, the
paper and the printing press. The money is not spent on reporters. The money is
spent on paper, presses, pressmen, personnel, transport, delivering the paper
and all this other stuff. That is number one. But paper is very limited in space, no
matter what the paper is, whereas the electronic is unlimited. But the paper has
many advantages. Serendipity. You know, you do not get serendipity on a
screen, things that you just come across. You have got to almost know what you
are looking for.
P: What about the very quick dissemination of news? Obviously, you do not have to
wait until the next morning.
L: Exactly. The immediacy, the volume. In fact, with the way things are going, it is a
convergence. You can get sound, motion pictures, everything.
P: Will advertisers support electronic newspapers?
L: They already are. It is evolving. Some things are not good, display advertising,
but let us say classified, which the papers are full of. Classified is marvelous.
P: But if it is display advertising, people who are looking at it will skip over it, will
L: A lot of the advantage of the newspaper is serendipitous. You know, you are
going through and you are not expecting to see that ad, but the thing is it does
not stop anybody from taking a newspaper in putting the little ad down in one
corner. They just have to think of different ways of doing it. If you take and look at
the newspaper today, there are still going to be some type of paper in which you
get a lot of the advertisement stuffed into it and delivered to you, like a Sunday
P: Let us talk about another element here. How do you view the use of all these
communications, televisions, Internet, everything, for educational long-distance
learning, as it is called?
L: Well, it has not been used very well up until this and we have got a lot of
disappointments in it, but even now if you look at it, they are talking about
Internet universities. There are some universities that are starting off with a
completely Internet-type thing. I think in education, it takes a lot of self-discipline
to learn that way. It takes a tremendous amount of self-discipline. On the other
hand, some of the things are not done very well either. [Walter] Annenberg
[publisher, philanthropist] had a special project, ten, twelve years ago, which I
tried my best in the university to get a biology course started by distance
education, thinking instead of doing the vials of stuff, you could just say, I
am putting in two ccs, and you could do it. Annenberg did not go for it, but I
still think [in] laboratories, a lot of things that you do can be done more effectively
by the Internet that way. It is just that we are very conservative. Universities are
very conservative and are not working as hard at it. On the other hand, some
things are much better done where there is a professor and you can have
immediate interaction with a human being.
P: Tell us a little bit about your decision to bring the Brechner Freedom of
Information Center to UF.
L: I had been closely related to the freedom of information center at the University
of Missouri. As I said, my Ph.D. advisor was Paul Fisher, who was director of the
Missouri Freedom of Information Center, and I was publications editor. When I
came back from Israel, rejoining the faculty at Missouri, I continued to work with
them but not in an official capacity, but I would write some articles for them. Of
course, that was an area that I taught in also. I taught controls of information at
the graduate level. When I came here, I went to the first meeting of the Florida
Society of Newspaper Editors-I think it was in Daytona Beach-in the fall of 1976.
Paul Hogan, who was then the president of the Florida Society of Newspaper
Editors-FSNE, it was called-pulled me aside and he said, the executives on the
FSNE have been talking about doing something with freedom of information and
we know you were associated with that at the University of Missouri. Could we
start a freedom of information center at the University of Florida? He said, we
would support it in every way. I said, yes, why not? I think we could do that. I
came back, and we started it that year. Jo Ann Smith, who taught
communications law and was a long-time full professor at the college of
journalism and communications, agreed to be the director of the center, and we
called it the Florida Freedom of Information Clearinghouse. It was a long name.
By 1977, we had gotten it organized and started sending out the first newsletters.
I think the first newsletter came out sometime in 1977. I want to sort of condense
this, so it began the first year of my administration. Jo Ann Smith did a
tremendous job with it, but I was going to raise the money. Well, FSNE did not
come through with much. I had to go begging, first for $25 subscriptions from
each newspaper, and we tried to use that to run it. A tremendous amount of
paperwork and correspondence, getting us this pitiful amount of money. As it
began building, I really realized we had something good going for us, because
we concentrated only on Florida. Unlike Missouri, which was a national center,
we said we are going to concentrate only on Florida. So, I thought, gee, if I spent
half as much time as I am doing now trying to get $25 subscriptions, I could get
real money for this. So I sort of abandoned that and went out and tried to get
larger endowments. The details escape me now, but I was successful in getting
much larger amounts of money to endow it, and over the years it grew and grew.
Then, Joseph L. Brechner, who was an owner of a television station in Orlando-I
think it was Channel 9, but I cannot remember the call letters now-I had known
him before I even came to Florida because he was at Missouri at a conference,
and I had met him. I made contact with him, and this was an area he was
interested in, very interested in. First, he gave us $25,000 to start undergraduate
work scholarships for it. Eventually, he sold his station and made a big profit in
his station. I approached him, and he gave us $1,000,000 for the center. He
actually gave more than that. Well, he gave $1,000,000, and then it was matched
by the state with about $600,000. I think he ended up giving about $1,400,000.
The family has now given a lot more money, I think a total of $3,000,000, to that
center. He did not require this, but this was my idea. We changed the name to
the Joseph L. Brechner Center for Freedom of Information. This was some years
later, of course.
Then we called the report that we turned out each month the Brechner Report.
That center has now become world-famous. It is really probably the most
important freedom of information center in the United States. Even though we
concentrate primarily on Florida, now we are doing a massive project on opening
state legislatures' information, codifying all the open-records and open-meetings
laws in the United States and so on. Then we brought in later Bill Chamberlain
from the University of North Carolina as director of the center and the first holder
of the Brechner chair. He [Brechner] had given money for an eminent chair
[professorial rank]. It has taken off, and it has become world-famous as a very
important center and increased the respect tremendously of the college in the
media throughout the United States.
P: What is the primary function of the Brechner Center?
L: The original function was to produce a newsletter every month informing all the
editors, broadcast news managers, publishers, station owners, and media
attorneys in the state, every aspect of control of information that had occurred
during the past month in the state of Florida. That is what we started doing in
1977, and the Brechner Report still does that. If there is a problem in getting into
a hospital meeting or there is a libel law that is filed or a city commission. There
are a thousand different topics, strangely enough, under freedom of information,
and we have massive, extensive files on each one. If reporters have a problem
getting into a meeting and they want to know whether by law they are entitled to
do it, they call us up. So, there is a continual hotline there in which we field these
calls, and then our people there run seminars on freedom of information and
access to meetings and access to records. Bill Chamberlain himself is an expert
on computerized records, state records, and how to get access to computerized
records that are official records and should be open. But it is getting larger and
larger with grants, a lot more money. What is interesting about it is a tremendous
number of wonderful graduate students [and] Ph.D. students have now trained
under Bill Chamberlain and are the communications law professors essentially at
the top schools throughout the country now. In addition, Bill started a master's
program with the law school, so we have a joint master's degree in
communications law with the law school. It is just a wonderful program.
P: So, an example might be when Jeb Bush, violating the Sunshine Law, held a
meeting with Toni Jennings [Florida Senate Majority Leader] and John Thrasher
[Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives] and would not allow the press
to come in. That event would be reported to all the media.
L: That is right. Well, most of them would probably know about that already, but
basically we have a clipping service that is down in Tampa. They clip every
newspaper, every weekly in the state, because most papers do not know what is
going on in other places. We started off as a clearinghouse. That is really
essentially what we started off as. We then compile all these bits of information
around the state that are happening in every city and county government and so
on, and then we inform the editors of precedents, we inform them of cases on
file. The back of the page is sort of an opinion piece. So, if something is going on
that is of interest-in fact, I have written several of them myself-to editors in
general, then that is written, too. So, they are informed about it. Actually, a few
years after we started, the broadcasters came in and, as a group, put money
[in], the Florida Association of Broadcasters. I had made contact with them
because I would go to all their conventions, too, and they came in and wanted to
be a part of the freedom of information center as well. We do conferences.
Sometimes we even turn out, not books, but monographs, let us say, a handbook
of the rules of getting into meetings and records in the state of Florida, for
example, which we then produce and sell in conjunction with the Florida Press
P: Does Florida not have a law equivalent to the Federal Freedom of Information
L: Florida actually was a leader. In fact, even before I got here, that was the thing.
Florida is one of the most liberal states in the United States, one of the most
open states. We have what is called the Sunshine Law, which not only [requires]
open meetings but really open records as well. Florida was actually the first to
get cameras into the courtroom. That happened after I came, and people worked
with FSNE and the Florida Association of Broadcasters on that.
P: Let us talk a little bit about press freedom and some of the court cases. We
talked a little bit about this in terms of the international situation. Is there too
much press censorship in wartime? I think about the Gulf War, where
newspapers and television was very restricted. Is that acceptable under those
L: Well, I guess you would list me as a conservative once you speak to my
daughter, because she is an attorney and she believes in complete laissez-faire.
I am much more conservative, so we have some good arguments together. I
think in wartime, it really is necessary. It has to be done properly, but you really
cannot have reporters rushing all over the place and getting in the line of fire,
number one, to make it more difficult for the people who are fighting the war, I
think. The other thing is you cannot have people giving away tactics and secrets.
It used to be, in World War II, there was a lot of censorship but people were sort
of trusted. Now, so many media people are on the scene with satellite
distribution, every television station, like in the Gulf War, half the televisions in
Florida sent over reporters at one time or another to file stories back. [With] the
massive number of people, there has to be some order to it. I myself did not find
P: Actually, the Iraqis were watching CNN.
L: Yeah right. Well, we were watching CNN also, when those guys were on the roof
of the building. In fact, the Iraqis made a huge mistake because the guys were up
on the roof while we were bombing them, telling us where the bombs were falling
and what we had missed.
P: What about circumstances where the press can print negative stories, libel about
certain individuals? I think of New York Times v. Sullivan or Westmoreland v.
CBS. What sort of restrictions should there be on the press?
L: That is a good question. Actually, the bottom line is that we have the most liberal
libel laws in the world in this country, actually the most liberal. England, which is
a bastion of freedom, in a sense, that when once somebody files a libel law, it
becomes sub judice and you are not allowed even to write about the subject
anymore. That would be unknown in this country. For example, I have forgotten
what they call it now but when people are booked at jails, we print the names of
people who have been booked even though they might really be innocent, just
because they have been accused or they have been booked for things, and we
have a complete right to do that. In other countries, that is not permitted until the
people are really officially indicted or something like that. So, in almost every
respect, the New York Times v. Sullivan in 1967 really opened it up so you can
say virtually anything as long as you did not know it was a lie in advance.
P: And if they are a public figure.
L: We have a [controversy] that is going on this week here-this is topical, of
course-with Rod Smith, that is an outrage really. Television stations are
running a commercial that, probably, there is some modicum of truth to it, but it is
taken totally out of context. It was done right before an election, but you do not
even know who printed it. In other words, you cannot even get to the source of
who printed [it]. That is how free this country is.
P: Is that too much? Should there be some regulation or some penalties?
L: I believe that if you are going to print any kind of advertisements, you ought to
know who printed it. It should not be anonymous.
P: At least accountability.
L: Right. I love our libel laws. I think it is really wonderful. I have no objection to
them, even though there are a lot of abuses. However, I think in campaigns, it is
terrible that they [libel laws] are as liberal as they are.
P: In some cases, obviously, if we think about the Olympic bombing in Atlanta
where a person was falsely accused, there are examples of the press violating
individuals' rights. The concept of the freedom of the press outweighs these few
L: I think so, except in very, very exaggerated instances, such as the assassination
of a president, where things sort of get out of hand. But on the other hand,
people need to know right away. So, I am very liberal where that is concerned.
About the guy who was supposed to have done the bombing in Atlanta, he ended
up suing the Atlanta Constitution and getting, I think, a bundle of money. The
organization who had not done the proper checking eventually was held
[accountable]. This man's life was hurt in the meantime, but he was
compensated later on. They cannot go to excess, essentially, without being
P: In that context, what about individual rights? I think about celebrities and the
paparazzi, who are often invading their privacy through long-lens cameras.
Where do you draw the line there?
L: Well, this is a very, very free country, and as I said, those are excesses. But once
you start trying to control that kind of thing, then you control things that we should
know about. I guess in this country, we have learned to live with that type of
thing. Even so, the National Enquirer gets sued for libel every now and then, and
it is held in non-esteem by most Americans. I guess that is the most we can plan
P: Talk a little bit about press ownership. Is there a problem when television and
newspapers are owned by one company in the same town, the Washington Post,
for example. Is that a problem that you see in violating the accuracy, the
objectivity of the press?
L: Yes, I think that is a problem. Monopoly is a huge problem. Of course, they try to
have laws preventing this, especially monopolization of print and electronic
media. On the other hand, again, this is really a great country, and there is what I
would call a righting process, and that is that even though there is a
monopolization in networks, like ABC is owned by Disney and this kind of stuff,
on the other hand, there is a proliferation of channels and sources. Now, with the
Internet and with the low-power television and cable television, you have many
different sources of information. So, you have even people, who have become
publishers, who just have a computer. You have Matthew Drudge [Internet
gossip journalist], for example, who is a terrible person. On the other hand, if you
look at people like Drudge or better than Drudge, they are just using many more
sources. It used to be that if you lived in a town, it used to be said, freedom of the
press belongs to the man who owns one. It used to be everything was a
monopoly. Now there are many, many different sources of information, and so I
think that monopoly is not as much of a concern.
P: So when you think of people like William Loeb [publisher] and the Manchester
[New Hampshire] Guardian or somebody like Rupert Murdoch [press baron], you
do not see them as threats to objective information presented to the American
L: I am disturbed a little bit about it. However, what do you do about it? In other
words, do you control it in such a way that a Republican or Democratic
administration uses that as a whip to bring people into line so they cannot buy
new properties, which is what is done in other countries? In other words, the
control is really over the electronic media. Now, they have controls that no one
can control more than 25 percent of the circulation of a television station, of the
audience. So if somebody wanted to buy two television stations that would
control 50 percent of the audience, they are not allowed to do it, and that kind of
stuff. I think, if anything, they have less power. The other thing is the change in
the newspapers themselves. For the most part, the control is in money control,
not in editorial control. When I was first a reporter, all the Hearst papers ran the
same editorial nationally, on a national basis. Today, Gannett, Knight-Ridder, all
the large groups, leave it totally up to the local publisher or editor on even who
they are going to support nationally. So, there is no William Randolph Hearst,
and I doubt even if Rupert Murdoch sends down the word on things like that. So
essentially, it really is not as harmful. And we have the rise of syndicated
columnists. Newspapers run a very wide variety of those, more letters to the
editor. I think a variety of opinion is there.
P: Should the Federal Communications Commission have more regulatory
L: Well, they have the authority largely. I think the problem is they do not utilize it.
That is where you get the control. If somebody can control every outlet in a given
city, you have got a problem. If they cannot get their hands on all the radio and
television stations. Radio is a real problem that people do not realize is going on.
There is a fantastic monopoly of radio. It used to be that you could only own one
station in a town, or an AM and an FM. Now, you are deregulated, so you got
these media conglomerates that come in and might own...there is one company
that owns six of the fourteen stations in Tampa right now, I think. But I could
continue that [and] give you an example right here at home. We are trying to
maintain WRUF-AM/FM. It goes back to 1928. We are the only entity, other than
WUFT-FM, which we also control, providing news. But keep in mind, this is
government-owned news. In other words, it is not ideal from the point of view of
the citizen. It is good for our students, but because we are still controlled by
government, that is not ideal at all. If I were to tell you that we could go out and
cover anything at this university we wanted to, I'd be a liar. Yes, we can. I mean,
nobody has ever stopped us, nobody has ever stepped in. However, we know
that if we got too aggressive, for example, there would be budget cuts, probably,
at the college of journalism. Nobody has ever threatened us with that, but that is
a sort of self-regulation. So, that is a danger.
P: From the administration or from the state?
L: From the administration. I mean, they have never done it, but you know that is
what would happen. I was at Missouri, and this is what actually happened. They
had a daily newspaper that went citywide. If they got too aggressive in covering
the university administration, the administration never said, you cannot run this
story or do that. The next thing you know, they were less than favorable about
budget increases for the school of journalism itself. So there is that self-
regulation that goes on in every station, but especially where it is government-
controlled, it is not the best in the world. Here is a situation in Gainesville where
we are trying to make enough money because WRUF has to make money.
WRUF does not get any state support at all, so we have to make over
$1,000,000 year in commercial income just to maintain [overhead costs], pay the
electricity bills and have professional staff that the students work under, etc.
Here, we have a situation that is a microcosm of the United States. We have
conglomerates that are buying up all the stations.
One or two conglomerates now own all the stations. They can go to advertisers.
Where we used to be on a level playing-field, they now go to advertisers and they
say, we will give you advertising at X amount of money, less than we charge, and
we will give you six stations. We will run it here. You will not only get a rock
station, but you will get country music, you will get the old classics. If you
translate that to the average town, a mom-and-pop station can absolutely not
stay in business anymore, and they are selling out to these conglomerates, which
never used to be allowed because you could only own two stations in a
community. Now, they can own six, eight, twelve. Poor WRUF is sitting there. We
cannot buy up other stations. We still have to compete on the old playing-field,
and it is very, very difficult. It is just a microcosm of what is going on in this
P: Is there an alternative? I think of the Independent Florida Alligator, which is a
student newspaper, but it is an independent student newspaper.
P: You would say it would be extremely difficult for the radio station to survive in the
L: We are surviving, but it is not easy. It becomes much, much more difficult
because you are dealing with a conglomerate that owns every other station in
town. They can make offers, they can give packages to advertisers, that we
P: Let us talk about, first, press ownership. You have written about this a lot. Explain
the difference between the ownership which is purely private and a multiparty or
a conglomerate. How does that affect the presentation of news?
L: One way that it could affect the presentation of news is that, if the conglomerate
buys a paper that has had a reputation for independence and putting a larger
amount of money into news and [a] willingness to take a smaller profit, and then
you are bought by a large corporation which now has stockholders-it is not
owned by a family or whatever but now has a large amount of stockholders who
expect the bottom line--then the word goes down, cut your news staff. You know,
we want a bigger profit. Cut your news staff. They are not going to cut the
advertising staff. That is for sure. A good example is the Miami Herald.
The Miami Herald used to be one of the great newspapers in the United States, I
mean really one of the really great newspapers. The Miami Herald no longer is
one of the great newspapers in this country. In fact, I doubt if it would make the
top ten or twenty even in this country today, primarily because Knight-Ridder,
which owns them, wanted a higher profit than it was returning. Let us say it was
returning an 18 percent profit, which they were always satisfied with before. I
mean, they have always been owned by Knight-Ridder, but now they are on the
New York Stock Exchange and the stockholders are looking at it and the analysts
are looking at it. So, the word goes down, we want a 25 percent return. So, you
begin hacking off people in the newsroom or hiring lower-price people or
whatever, and obviously the news product suffers. This goes on everywhere.
P: I know one occasion, when the Chicago Tribune took over the Fort Lauderdale
paper, they changed to a very conservative editorial policy at the request of the
Chicago paper. I heard you say earlier that, by and large, Knight-Ridder and
Gannett do not influence local editorial policy. Does, for example, the New
York Times influence the Gainesville Sun at all?
L: Listen, I hate to dispute you on this because you probably know more about it
than I do, but the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel has actually improved
tremendously over the years. Actually, the guy who owned it, Governer Gore, it
was a very conservative paper, extremely conservative and insular down there
when the Chicago Tribune took it over. I do not think the Chicago Tribune, even
McCormick himself, had the reputation of being very conservative, that he ever
mandated an editorial policy. That paper has become a better paper every single
year and is sort of giving the Miami Herald a run for its money now. Over the
years when I was dean, I watched that paper and it just got better and better
P: So, you do not see that as an issue.
L: No. In fact, there is an argument to be made that chain-ownership improves a lot
of papers that did not have a lot of capitalization, had a very, very conservative
inward-looking type publisher. You know, that actually brought in good people
and then became much better by chain ownership. I mean, the quality of the
paper became much better.
P: Plus, if you are owned by the New York Times, you get better writers. You get
more assets, I suppose.
L: You brought up one other thing that is extremely important. You and I, twenty
years ago, could only get our local newspaper, and we were stuck with that local
newspaper. We now have satellite-generated newspapers, like the Wall Street
Journal, the New York Times, and USA TODA Y, that we can get two sources
every day. Whereas before, I would read only the Gainesville Sun, today I can
get the New York Times every day, and it is fresh. Not only that but with the
Internet, if something is happening in Tampa or Miami or any other city in the
country truthfully, I just go to the Internet and read any newspaper in the country
that I want to. It is marvelous. This gives the local paper a lot less control over
P: What is your assessment of the national newspaper USA TODAY?
L: USA TODAY is a quick read still. It is a decent paper, it is a quick read, but it is, I
would say, a mass newspaper by U.S. standards. It is certainly not sensational. It
is mass paper, whereas the New York Times, which is also available and more
expensive, is a class paper, is really an elite paper, and is still the best paper in
the world. We have a choice. We can get a very good paper, which is USA
TODAY, or we can get the best paper in the world. Some people get both.
P: Apparently, USA TODAY has a niche.
L: Has a very good niche, especially for travelers. You know, you can pick it up and
it looks the same. You get sports, which the New York Times has but not as
much of. You get TV. You get the things that the average person is interested in,
the TV logs and all the other stuff, which the New York Times does not give you.
The New York Times gives you the international news and news in-depth.
P: I know you interviewed Al Neuharth. What were some of the innovations he
made with USA TODAY?
L: First of all, I would say Al Neuharth is an unusual person. Flamboyant. He has
got his faults also, but he is a great man. Al Neuharth will be listed as one of the
real titans of the 20th century, and I think there are only a few who will be in that
category. There will people like [William Randolph] Hearst and [Joseph] Pulitzer
[press barons], who spilled over from the last century into this one. There will be
[Ted] Turner from CNN [Cable News Network] and Al Neuharth and very, very
few others. There will be Adolph Ochs [publisher of The New York Times].
Really, in the heart of the 20th century, there is nobody like Al Neuharth, who built
that huge chain, and he had the idea for USA TODAY. When I interviewed him, I
[asked if] they had gone into a debt of $50,000,000 a year, they were losing
$50,000,000 a year, was that true? And he said, multiply that a few times. No
other executive in this country who had a company on the New York Stock
Exchange could have forced his board of directors to take losses like that on a
paper that no one knew would succeed. But Neuharth is so confident. He said he
always knew it would succeed. It was never a risk, as far as he was concerned.
The investment of money was worth it because he knew it would succeed. But no
other company could have done it. He is the only one who could have done it.
P: One thing, he changed the format, used more color, bigger type and things like
that, they would use shorter stories, and he positioned the paper as a sort of a
national quick read.
L: Right. He doubled the number of stories. The average paper had 200 stories.
USA TODAY had 400. And they experimented with a lot of things they did not
continue, but something they did around the United States, they have a little
paragraph, supposedly you go to that page and if you are from North Carolina,
you look up that and you know the most important thing that happened in North
Carolina yesterday with that one paragraph. I have read it, and I always wonder if
what I read is the most important thing that happened in the state of Florida. But
at the same time, use of pictures, use of color. But a lot of people do not realize,
late deadlines too. Again, he could do it because it is a paper newspaper, and
you have to have satellite printing plants. Well, Gannett by this time had ninety-
four newspapers, and so he could force his other newspapers around the United
States to print that paper and distribute it. There were a lot of things that went
into it that called for a tremendous amount of logistics that could not have been
done twenty years before.
P: Is it profitable now?
L: I think it is. I think it turned the corner, probably on its tenth anniversary or
something like that.
P: Talk about Neuharth's Freedom Forum. What is that, and why is it important?
L: That is a long story that does not have much to do with my college so much. But
the Gannett Foundation was sitting there, and it funded journalism education very
largely. That was its main object, and it was fairly small in a sense. Al Neuharth
was always on the board of the Gannett Foundation, as well as being a CEO and
chairman of the board of the Gannett Corporation. When he retired from Gannett,
he went over to the Gannett Foundation full-time and took a look at the fact that
all of their assets were in Gannett stock, not turning an awful lot of money. So,
what he did was sort of green-mailed Gannett itself. He sort of threatened to sell
all of the stock to a competing company unless Gannett bought it back, because
Gannett did not want to. It was such a huge amount of money, it would practically
break the company to do it. Under that sort of a pressure, they bought the stock
back. Al then had the money in which he could invest in other things. He divested
of the Gannett stock, which he could not have sold without their permission, and
they bought it back, because it was restricted stock. Then he could take the
money that he got for that stock and then turn it into other investments which
brought much bigger return and would give them a chance to do other things.
Under Neuharth, the Freedom Forum, which largely was a non-operating
foundation-that is, it gave money to other people, they did not run things
themselves-really became an operating foundation. They set up a media center,
and they set up a museum. That was Al's idea. As things have gone in the last
few years, the museum has taken more and more money. They just announced a
plan to spend $100,000,000 to buy a piece of property near the Mall in
Washington, D. C. That is just for the property. They are giving the city of
Washington $100,000,000 for the property, and then they will probably spend
another $100,000,000 or so on the museum. As time has gone on, more and
more of that money has gone into things that they operate and less and less into
journalism education. They changed the name also from the Gannett Foundation
to the Freedom Forum.
P: Talk a little bit about, for example, government ownership of press and media,
and I think particularly of something like that BBC. How do you assess the value
of that kind of ownership?
L: Government ownership of anything like that is not the best in the world, except
under special circumstances. Generally speaking, I am not in favor of
government ownership of the press. However, the people are not going to
support an elite cultural organization. Thus, the University of Florida is not going
to be private. A museum is not going to be privately owned. You start charging
admission, poor kids and poor people cannot come in to see it. The same thing
about television and radio. Of all the hundreds of media outlets that we have, you
have to have at least one government-owned, I would say, a non-profit, a
government-supported, like PBS or NPR. Otherwise, the cultural heritage of this
country will never be perpetuated. Without getting into it, if you take a look at
commercial television and what it has become in its effort to make money, really,
about twenty minutes out of every hour now goes to commercials. Gradually,
they have increased, so now if you try to watch anything, for every hour that you
watch, you are getting twenty minutes of commercials, which destroys anything
cultural. Even where classical musical stations are privately owned, and there are
a few of them, just very, very few, what they do is they do not play the longer
symphonies. They play shorter pieces because you got to get commercials in.
You are not going to play a symphony that goes on for thirty-five minutes if you
have got to get commercials every ten minutes. So I think there is a balance, and
I am very happy with that balance. Even in a place like Gainesville, which is
smaller, you would have no news on radio. I mean, it is incredible. You would
have no news on radio in Gainesville, were it not for the government-owned
stations. Normally, it is not a really good idea because we need to cover
government. News needs to cover government. If you are owned by government,
you cannot do a really a good job of covering government.
P: At least in a democracy. If it is Russia or Indonesia, there is obviously total press
control. Do we have a better system with PBS where it is regulated and
supported by government but largely dependent on public contribution, as
opposed to the BBC?
L: Right. The thing is, a lot of people do not realize, we say PBS is supported, but I
think only a third of our support comes from underwriting and public
subscriptions. Two-thirds of our budget actually comes from government, either
from the legislature, the University of Florida, if you take a look at what it costs. In
the year 2000, we have to convert now all of our television equipment from
analog to digital. In other words, we have to go from one form of electronics to a
digital form that is working with zeros and ones, like a computer. It has to be
done. A regular station can go out, and it has profits that it has saved or can get
a bond issue and pay back on the profits that it makes. But we do not make a
profit. It is going to cost us at least $3,000,000 and probably $6,000,000 to
convert this one small television station. If we do not get a massive grant from
the federal government, we cannot do it. Then we will not be able to compete, we
will not be able to provide the kind of things that we have to provide. So, there is
no way around the fact that government really has to provide that kind of stuff.
But if you do not have a public television station, you do not have programming
for children and all the other good things that we have.
P: And you would never have opera or that sort of thing.
L: Right, exactly.
P: A station for profit appeals to the bottom line, lowest common denominator.
L: That is right.
P: But one of the downsides of federal government control, as you know, is that
individuals like Jesse Helms [conservative senator from North Carolina] then
sees some of that programming and find that "offensive" to the young, and they
will try to cut government support.
L: That is correct.
P: How do you deal with that kind of problem?
L: It is not all bad. I mean, there are bad aspects to it, but on the other hand, public
radio tends to be more liberal because, per se, the media attract more liberal
people. If they were conservative, they would go into business administration and
banking. A lot of people do not understand that. People who are willing not to
earn huge amounts of money, who want to write, are creative artists. Creative
people happen to be more liberal. Conservative people are those who go into the
financial end and advertising. Our advertising students are more conservative
than our journalism students in this college, for example. On the other hand,
public radio should serve everybody. I do not think I would really like to see
public radio where it was not responsible to the public and even our elected
officials. So, if they are going to have liberal commentators, then they darn well
ought to have conservative commentators. So, when the Republicans a few
years ago wanted to cut out the budget to public broadcasting, they discovered to
their shock that their constituents were up in arms about it because they did not
want to lose public radio. It was not just the liberals but a lot of other people
because there is really great entertainment on it as well. You have "Prairie Home
Companion" [Garrison Keillor's humor show] and all this stuff like that. So they
backtracked fast. But whether it is National Endowment for the Humanities or
public broadcasting, one does have to provide a balance. You cannot be taken
over by people who are super liberal and are going to cram everything else down
P: Talk about your commitment at this university to improve the status of minorities.
L: This is something that I really feel strongly about, I think maybe because I am a
Jew. I grew up in a segregated society. I was always empathic. Do not get me
wrong. I lived on the right side of segregation, that is, on the easy side of
segregation. I did not march with Martin Luther King, and I came from a very,
very segregated community. But I always felt bad about it, and I always thought it
was wrong. Even when I would come back from college-you know, I went to
school in New York and I would come back on the train-everything was
integrated until you got to Baltimore or someplace like that. The train, the Super
Liner or I have forgotten what we called it in those days, it was an express train
that went through, and you had stewardesses on board. As soon as it got to
Baltimore, they changed, and it became segregated. In the dining car, all the
whites would be eating in one place, and then there would be one little table with
a frosted glass so you could not see them, one table for blacks, maybe two
tables for blacks. This whole idea disgusted me, even as a teenager, really. You
had to know that there was something wrong with this. There were a lot of other
aspects to it, also, of segregation. Basically, when I came in here, the university
did not push integration, and this has been one of my complaints about the
University of Florida, of a lack of accountability.
The colleges on this campus over the years that have improved minority status,
and some people would argue this, and I looked through all the administrations
since I came here in 1976, they gave lip service to it and that is about it. No dean
got promoted or demoted or raises or no raises on the basis of whether he or she
improved minority standards. Oh yes, they would pat you on the back or
something like that, but you would get a college that would not do anything to get
more minorities and they would get the same [treatment]. There was no
accountability, and no accountability all the way up to the governor, and that was
wrong about this university. I even wrote a commentary some weeks ago about
that for WUFT-FM. So we started trying to do something about it. When we
started our capital campaign-I think the first capital campaign started about 1988
or 1989-we were the only college of the eighteen colleges on this campus that
had as our primary goal to raise minority scholarships. We were the only one. In
fact, Gene Hemp later told me that. He said that he thinks that they made a
mistake in not making the other colleges do it. But we were the only one. That
was our number one priority. We went around trying to raise money for minority
scholarships, and we were very successful with the matching money from the
Most of the large media enterprises gave, I think, at least $600,000. Many of
them gave $600,000. We got $1,000,000 endowments. We got $200,000
endowments. We got very large endowments, and when we ended up that
capital campaign, we had enough of an endowment just for minority scholarships
to give $115,000 a year just in minority scholarships. What was interesting about
it was that many gave money for non-minority scholarships, so we not only
increased the minority scholarships, but we increased all of our scholarships. We
got a huge grant from the Knight Foundation, of something like $256,000, to start
a minority center, and they ended up endowing our entire minority program for
over $1,000,000. I think they gave $600,000, and the state matched it, and so we
had a minority center. By the time we moved through the cycle by the early
1990s, our minority enrollment was 50 percent higher in blacks. That is what I am
going by, primarily. The university as a whole had 5 percent. We had 7.5 percent.
The only other college that matched it, and again it was because of the dean,
and I cannot remember his name, because the dean really cared, was
agriculture, believe it or not. These two colleges stood way above all the others.
It was not because anybody held us accountable. It was because the two of us
really wanted to do it, even over the opposition of the faculty sometimes.
What we discovered was that minority students wanted to come to some place
that had a critical mass. They did not want to be the only black student in a class.
If they were going to be the only one or two black students in a class, they did not
want to come into that college. We learned a lot about minority recruitment and
enrollment, and we used our position here as a headquarters for the Florida
Scholastic Press Association--that is, of all the high schools in the state that have
high school journalism and broadcasting stations and newspapers and
yearbooks--to recruit the best students that way, too. I am really very proud of
what we were able to do. By the time I left, I think 12 percent of our faculty was
also minority, which again was maybe double or triple what the rest of the
campus [had], and two of our four department chairs were minority. It is very
modest of me to say this. Why am I doing it? Not just because I am just
empathic. I have six grandchildren, and I never wanted my grandchildren to be
involved in a race war fifty years from now.
Frankly, I could not care less whether the students that we attract go into
journalism or not, although I think that it is important to get more minorities into
journalism. I think what universities had to do was to get blacks into the middle
class. If we do not break the back of the de facto segregation by getting blacks
into the middle class, the country is going to be in serious trouble. And this
college has done a marvelous job. I think the university, incidentally, this year, is
beginning to do a good job. The present governor [Jeb Bush] is not eliminating
affirmative action as he has said, no matter what the gobbledygook that he gives
otherwise. It is very, very bad. We have increased minority enrollment because
the universities want to do it, not because of anything that he has done.
P: What impact will this have on the profession? Because, in doing interviews, I find
over and over again the hardest positions to fill in newspapers and television
stations are minority positions.
L: Take a look at something. They are not the hardest to fill. Okay, now, I disagree
with you in a way. Yes, in a way they are, but it is just like faculty, Julian. You
have been in the history department a long, long time, and you have been on
search committees. Everybody says there is no pool out there. Of course, there
is no pool out there. The pool has to start at some point. It has maybe got to start
at the high-school level, so it means that universities have to do more at the high
school level. Let us go back to Al Neuharth. That is why I think Al is so great,
even though the guy has got such an ego that it defeats a lot of the good things
that he is doing, not many of them, but some of them. Look what Al Neuharth did.
He looked at the Gannett newspaper as the largest chain in the United States,
and he saw that there were no minorities, and they are not fools. I mean, they are
much more sensible than we are out there because they said, who is going to
buy our papers? 25 percent of our population is going to become a minority.
Maybe 50 percent, even, is going to become minority by the middle of this
century. Who is going to read our papers 50 years down the line if we are a
white-oriented newspaper and we have only a white staff? And do you know
what Neuharth did? Nobody else did it but Neuharth. Neuharth went to all his
publishers and he said, by God, by the end of this year, whatever that year was,
you are going to have more blacks and Hispanics, let us say, in your newsroom
as editors and more as reporters and more as advertising salesmen than you
have got now, and if you do not do it, you will not get a raise. He said, I do not
care what else you do, I do not care how much money you make, what your
return is or anything else like that. If you do not get more minorities in your
newsroom, etc., you will not get a bonus at the end of the year.
P: What about women?
L: And the same thing for women. Right, on minorities and women. And do you
know what? All of a sudden, a pool existed. A pool that did not exist before
existed because these guys were not going to get a raise. And it was a publisher.
They were not going to get a raise. And so more appeared. He did the same
thing the next year and the next year and the next year. Then, the other
newspapers started looking at the Gannett papers and they saw, hey, they are
representative and we are not. He set an example. Basically, that has never
happened at the universities, generally speaking. I am not saying that there are
not some universities that have not done it, but they have not come to me.
Nobody in my eighteen years as dean came to me and said, Ralph, you are dean
of this damn college. If you do not get more black students into your college by
the next year, forget any raise. Nobody ever said that.
P: In that case, what is the future of black newspapers in Florida?
L: There is probably not much of a future because as blacks see themselves
represented in regular papers, what is the point of them? I think the same thing
has happened in sororities and fraternities. We used to have all Jewish
fraternities and sororities. We have half as many, or one-third as many, on this
campus now because the regular fraternities and sororities take Jews, which they
did not do before. The town I grew up in, 25 percent of the population was black.
The town you grew up in was probably very similar. Blacks never appeared in our
paper unless they were arrested. They did not appear on the engagement and
wedding page. They did not appear on the society page. In fact, they did not
appear anywhere in that paper unless they were arrested. Then when they were
arrested, they were called by their first names in the paper, not by their last
P: Never Mister.
L: Never Mister. In fact, if they were called James Jones, on the second reference
they were referred to as James because, you know, they could not even be given
the dignity of being called by their last name.
P: What is the future of weekly newspapers in Florida?
L: Weeklies are still doing okay, I guess, especially if the suburban area goes out.
But I do not know. It is hard to predict exactly what is happening with the Internet.
As people can get more and more news, there may be a weekly paper, but the
metropolitan papers may be able to do a better job of providing weekly news.
P: Talk about your relationship over the years with the Florida Press Association.
L: As I mentioned, from the very beginning, the Florida Press Association and the
Florida Society of Newspaper Editors has always met jointly once a year and
separately. Brania and I would always go to those, and we got very friendly with
many of the publishers. They would ask me to do them favors, and I would ask
them to do me favors. We spent a lot time on the road, and I would say at least
once every two years, I visited every major newspaper in the state and would go
by and visit the publisher and the editor in their own offices, most of the time not
asking for anything, which shocked them really. They would come up to football
games, and they would come up to the campus. They wanted to get somebody
into school, a nephew or a friend. I would never be able to get anybody in, but I
could cut red tape. I could find out what was going on. They would ask me to do
things, and I would never say no. They would say, will you come down and judge
a contest? Yes. Will you come down and speak to a high school banquet? Yes.
I have written about that in my book on fund-raising. Basically, if you want to be a
successful dean, you cannot do it by sitting in Gainesville, Florida. You have got
to get out on the road. I would say Brania and I spent about 50 percent of the
weekends somewhere else other than here. It was really great because they
became very close personal friends. I mean, they were really wonderful people.
The stereotype that people might have is not true anymore, because whereas it
used to be publishers were always the sons of publishers, you know, and they
own the newspapers, which was true when we grew up, in small towns
especially, now they are all people who are on the move. They are people who
came from the middle class just like we did and then have gone into the business
and gone to journalism schools, many, and have moved up through the ranks.
We had a lot in common. I really missed that tremendously when I retired
because I loved mixing with the publishers and the editors and finding out what
they were thinking and so on.
P: Who would you rate as the most important journalist in 20th century Florida?
L: Without mentioning names, I would say a series of people who really headed the
St. Petersburg Times. It started with Nelson Poynter [publisher], Bob Hayman,
who was then the managing editor, Andy Barnes, who is the publisher now, and
a series of people like that who made that newspaper such an outstanding
newspaper. It is not only a very large paper but [possesses] extremely high
standards. In other words, they maintained the standards of that paper.
Interestingly enough, very large circulation because it was very credible with very
high standards. If I really had to look at all of Florida, that would probably, to me,
be the most important in the 20th century.
P: Is that one of the best newspapers in America?
L: Definitely. It has been on the top ten list ever since I became dean and probably
is considered, maybe, one of the top five. After the New York Times and the
Washington Post and the L. A. Times, which is not as good as it used to be, it
really comes down to the St. Petersburg Times. It is a very good paper.
P: What do you think are the most important functions of a newspaper today?
L: I think the most important function is local news, of the average paper, not
counting the New York Times or the Washington Post. The most important
function is actually its ability to produce local news and opinion, and this is
something that a lot of people do not think about, but I think the opinion page,
letters to the editor or op ed pieces, editorials, this is an important function of the
newspaper, in addition to advertising. The advertising function on a local level is
extremely important, extremely important, because it makes commerce work. A
lot of people, again, do not realize that if you cannot get your opinion in the paper
any other way, they will not cover what you do, you can always buy an ad and
get it in that way.
P: Have letters to the editor changed over the years?
L: To some extent, yes. It depends on the paper, but generally speaking, most
papers do not run poetry and bigot[ry]. If used to be that if somebody came out
with out and out bigotry in a letter to the editor, the paper would go on and print
that. Most papers just take those things and put them in File 13 now.
P: Is there anything else that you would like to talk about before we wrap it up?
L: I guess to conclude, I would say if one was looking at what I would do, I would
say one of my shortcomings is that I did not involve myself as much in
curriculum. I would say, this is a huge school, and, frankly, I did not do any
teaching. I taught for the first three years I was here, but this is an incredibly big
job. We have the second largest number of undergraduate majors in America in
this school and the school that really has, now, we have five broadcasting
stations. By the time I left, we had five broadcasting stations because we started
an educational TV [station] as well. That took so much time and fund-raising. I
actually spent about 50 percent of my time directly or indirectly in fund-raising,
and there is no way you can do that and get involved as much in curriculum. On
the other hand, that is what we are here for, and so if you looked at something
that I did not do well, it is curriculum. One reason was that deans are no longer
dictators. Deans have search committees and tenure-promotion committees and
the faculty has to have faculty governance. And if you notice the four things I
mentioned, they are all outside academics. I moved in the areas that the faculty
could not stop me from doing, in a sense, and I did not intrude in areas where
faculty should have been doing it. In some cases the faculty progressed in
curriculum and in some cases they did not, depending on who the department
chair was. I suppose what I should have done is gotten rid of a few department
chairs and brought in a few others. Generally speaking, I did not do that.
P: Talk a little bit about the expansion of the graduate program and adding the
L: It is funny, people will say, he started a Ph.D. program. Well, why did we start a
Ph.D. program? Because we were not a whole school without it. In fact, I loved
the fact that we had a very strong undergraduate program. This college, even
now, has a much smaller graduate program than most larger schools, an
imbalance, in a way, and our emphasis always was on undergraduate education.
In many ways, I really liked that, because in journalism, the undergraduate
degree is a hell of a lot better than the graduate degree, the master's. What
happens in journalism, not in other areas like history or English and others, only
one out of the four years is in journalism. We could not become accredited if we
offered more than thirty hours in journalism. We did not accept students until the
junior year, and even then, 50 percent of their course work is outside. What you
are trying to do is give them a professional basis of writing, editing, reporting, all
the technology that they have to learn, especially in broadcasting, layout, design,
in addition to the theoretical courses like mass media and society and
communications law. It is very, very difficult to do, even over a period of two
So, you would get master's students, then, who had no background in
journalism, and yet you were supposed to produce them in a year and a half or
two years taking a lot of theoretical courses, and honestly, if they went out to
work for a newspaper, they were not as well-qualified as the undergraduates.
This is true all over the United States. Almost all of the Ph.D. work throughout the
United States in journalism, people have become teachers. Almost all are going
to become teachers. I looked around, and we were one of the few schools that
did not have a Ph.D. program. Now, Missouri, where I came from, did. But if you
looked at this college alone, it was only fine arts, I think, that did not have a Ph.D.
program at that time, and maybe one other school. I have forgotten which one it
Essentially, it hurt us prestigiously on the campus and in the United States
because the people who give you a certain reputation, which you want to build
for a lot of reasons, are the people who go out all over the United States and say
I got my Ph.D. from the University of Florida. 80 percent of our students take their
first job in the state of Florida, and 60 percent take their second job in the state of
Florida because it is such a big state. So, we wanted to start a Ph.D. program,
but the person who really pushed it through was Kurt Kent, not me. He was our
graduate director. Kurt really did the work and did a marvelous job. Rob Pierce
started the ball moving when he was the graduate director, and Kurt picked it up.
It was not me who did it. I provided the money. In fact, if I can use this word, we
got screwed royally on that program, because when we started designing the
program, we got the support of Tigert Hall.
We were supposed to get all kinds of professors and everything else. By the time
we got ready to get the program through, the Board of Regents, they did what
they always do every three years, they changed directions. You know, they
moved first the graduate work, then the...well, the year we came up, they decided
all the emphasis was going to be on undergraduate from then on. They did not
give us a penny. We were the only school I have ever heard of, really that I ever
heard of, that started a Ph.D. program without one penny in support from
anybody. We had to chew that Ph.D. program out of our own innards by moving
undergraduate teachers who were qualified up and hoping we could bring in
Ph.D.s to teach some of the undergraduates. We did not get any money for
professors. We got no money for fellowships. We had our own endowment which
I had been building, and that was lucky. That Gannett money of $1,000,000 plus
the other $750,000 by the time I ended my deanship had grown to almost
$5,000,000, that alone, not in addition to the other money that I raised. The
Gannett stock, thanks to Al Neuharth, had grown rapidly. The [University of
Florida] Foundation always wanted to sell that stock, and I would never let them
until later, when the Gannett people themselves said this is a good time to sell it.
Even though it was not bringing in as much money, it was growing very, very
rapidly. So anyway, that was a long-winded way of saying we did get the Ph.D.
program going, but out of our own guts, and it became a very, very good program
because we primarily began attracting people thanks to Bill Chamberlain in
communications law. We got into other areas, too, but Bill was so strong in that
area, and the Brechner Center itself was so unique and so strong that students
drifted into that area. People who already had law degrees started coming to this
college just to work under Bill Chamberlain.
P: How much did the curriculum change during your time as dean? Let me give you
an example. How much did, say, the broadcast news courses change?
L: Things changed largely as they were driven by technology. I would say the best
way of saying it is, largely, everything that we ever taught is still taught, and
again, this is my fault. We should have changed much more. As I told you much
earlier, courses that should be required in history or even mass media and
society were never even required in this college. We were still a nuts-and-bolts-
type college, largely, not as theoretical in the undergraduate as I would have
liked to have been, but it was very, very solid. We have got, really, a great
reputation. There were roughly six national surveys in the eighteen years that I
was dean, roughly three done by the professionals and three done by academics
in the United States. In every one of those surveys, in every one of the six which
is very unusual, we were ranked in the top ten journalism schools in the country,
and in many of the areas, department by department, we were ranked in the top
three, which is very unusual. Journalism, which has a lot more competition
because everybody taught it, was sixth or seventh. But advertising and public
relations were always in the top three, and broadcast news was in the top one or
two. So, against schools like Northwestern, Missouri and the others, it ended up
that people started talking about journalism education by the time I left.
Incidentally, I still say it was only possible because of what Ray Weimer and Paul
Jones did. They built a solid school. If anything, I just sort of gave it publicity. I
gave what they did publicity. I want to mention one other thing too about that, of
how we got our reputation. But by the time I left, if people mentioned the top
schools in the country, everybody would always say Missouri, Northwestern, the
University of North Carolina, Florida. Generally speaking, we were mentioned.
When people mentioned five good schools, we were always going to be one of
them, and then we got the reputation of being the most advanced in technology
and electronic and broadcasting.
P: Plus, a lot of national student awards.
L: And we won the Hearst contest year after year on that. The real turning point in
the reputation of the college was the 1984 Association for Education and
Journalism and Mass Communications Convention. Incidentally, I became
president of that organization, which is a nationwide organization of journalism
educators, in 1990. But this was before I became president. We bid for the
convention. In those days, they had conventions at the universities, rather than at
hotels. They do that at hotels now, but then it was done on campuses. Nobody
wanted to do it because it was so much work, and I insisted, I drove the faculty to
say yes in 1980, we were going to bid for it in 1984. We knew our building was
going to be finished-it was finished in 1980-and we wanted people to see what
we had here, because we were never ranked in the top ten.
People thought of us, you know, as a Southern school. People run around
barefoot, [and] what could we do? I wanted them to see our physical facility. It is
important. Physical facilities are important. Nobody knows what goes on in the
classroom, but they know what a building looks like. We got over 1,000
journalism educators down here in 1984 for that nationwide convention. A guy
named Jim Anderson in public relations, we set him free for the whole year to
plan for it. He got the public relations students, primarily, lined up that summer-it
was held the first week of August-to stay over the summer. He got that thing
running. Boy, we had the public relations students. We had rented vans, and we
were picking them up at the Hilton Hotel and the Holiday Inn. We had them
staying at the dormitories, and I had gotten this whole package. We got Spring
Mills-the vice president of Spring Mills was on our advisory board for
advertising-to print towels with all the logos, and all the publishers paid to put
their logo on this towel. Twenty years later, people still tell me they have their
towel. We had packages of soap, and everyone, when they got there, they had a
notebook and they had everything. But that towel, it was a huge beach towel.
When they left this place after four days, and they saw this building-this is still a
great building-they said this is one of the top schools. 1984 was our turning
P: Is there anything else?
P: Thank you very much, Ralph. This concludes the interview.
[End of the interview.]