Press BasherTurns J-School Tutor p.15

By: DEBRA GERSH HERNANDEZ FORMER MARYLAND GOV. William Donald Schaefer dislikes the press so vehemently and unapologetically it's hard to imagine him spending time in his post-political career in front of a class of journalism students ? but he did.
Schaefer has team-taught a public policy class at the University of Maryland's School of Public Affairs for graduate journalism students.
One of two teachers who pair up for the weekly class, Schaefer drew upon his long political career ? including stints as a member and president of the Baltimore city council, mayor and governor ? to give students real-life examples of how public policy is made.
"It's ironic, because I am not a proponent of the press," said Schaefer during an interview in his campus office in College Park, Md. "In fact, I am very anti-press. I don't like the people in the press. I never got along with them. So it was strange to go into teaching a journalism class."
Schaefer conceded that he got off on the wrong foot with the students "because I told them I didn't like them, and I didn't like them because they were journalism students, and I would be on the opposite side."
But the students had their own preconceived notions about the former governor, he said, remarking, "They're students, and they know that everybody in public life is crooked.
"And then," he added, "when they find out that maybe you've done some good, and you're able to point out some of the things that did happen during your time, they're pretty willing to accept that."
Schaefer said he told the class about officials who he thought "were lazy, didn't work, didn't care" but also cited positive examples.
By about the third lecture, though, Schaefer said adversarial positions eased and students "no longer looked on me as the enemy, and I no longer looked at them as the enemy."
To find common ground, the former governor said he had to get over his wariness of the press, a wariness ingrained during his years in political office. At the same time, he tried to get the class to understand that all politicians aren't crooks.
"What I tried to get over [was], when I was in public office, we were always defensive. The press was always probing. Everything that we did on the positive side was laughed at. If it was negative, it was of interest," he said.
"After time, you get to trust certain reporters," Schaefer added. "You know that you won't get a good story, but you won't get a bad story, and all you ask for is a fair story."
He tried to explain that "everyone in government is not out to feather their own nest, and that they're not all crooked, that some really do care about people, and they ought to try to differentiate between those who are out to make a buck and those who really have some interest in public policy."
"I also told them that they have a great influence," he said. "You know, the press is a powerful instrument. And once you're a target of their stories, it's tough."
Schaefer suggested that when dealing with a public official, "give him half a break, and you'll get more out of it." In addition, he urged students to "try to find out what the motivation of the person in public life is."
"Are you there for yourself? Are you there to make money? Are you there to be powerful? Or are you there to help people?" he said.
"I was able to show them that in the legislature, one third didn't work at all, one third did some work, one third ran the legislature," he added. "So that gave them the practical side."
It is precisely that practical side that the team-teaching program is designed to relay.
"It's a really neat partnership between the School of Public Affairs and the College of Journalism," commented Susan C. Schwab, dean of the School of Public Affairs.
Graduate journalism students, who work for the Capital News Service, attend one day of classes a week, with a lesson in the morning and then a team-teaching seminar with professionals in the afternoon, Schwab explained.
"What makes it unique is you get a group of working journalists, sort of in the first couple of years of their careers and they sit down for a semester with career-practicing public figures. They sit down with people who have been dealing with the press all of their careers under very different circumstances," she said.
For the students, "it's probably the only time they're going to be able to sit down with public figures who aren't going through a kind of on-the-record/off-the-record exercise," Schwab noted.
For the instructors, she continued, it is "rather interesting not being constrained by a career's worth of relationships with the press that we brought to the table."
For his part, Schaefer isn't pursuing an academic career.
"I could be absorbed into this atmosphere. I don't want to be absorbed into this atmosphere," he said. "I want to stay out. If I'm absorbed, I've lost my effectiveness."
Schaefer said he has learned a lot from the experience and believes it will make the students better journalists.
"The most important thing is an open mind," he advised the students. "Do your job and understand how important you are. Man, you can kill a person. One story, you're dead. They tar you, you never get the tar off."
These days, the former legislator, who would tell off reporters whose stories he didn't like and shut others out completely, says he tells politicians, "Get on the good side of the press.
"Always keep an open door, keep an open mind, give them a break and most of them'll give you a break.
"If you can deal with people, you can deal with reporters," he adds. "They're people, but they're reporters.
"I would say you can't win with the press. You can't beat them. You just can't beat them, so do the best you can."
Schaefer also apparently believed if you can't beat them, join them, as he and about a dozen other investors tried their hand at putting out a weekly community paper, Baltimore News.
"I had a theory," he recalled. "I wanted to have an upbeat paper. We missed that."
Although the limited-distribution free paper ran out of money and had to close down, Schaefer expected a revival when new investors come on board.
"It had some little difficulties, some under- financed distribution and all the rest of it, but people read this paper," he said.
"They really read it. We had people starving for something like this.
"Our trouble is you need advertising," he said, "and you need six pages of advertising in order to put your paper out."
"A whole lot of advertisers want to advertise, but they don't want to put their money in and have the paper fold.
"So what we're actually trying to do is get a commitment for four months of advertising. Give us a contract for four months, we'll know how much money we've got and then we'll know whether we're going to make it or not."
Schaefer said "people are responding to that, but everybody wants to be last. I go to a restaurant every Saturday night and they're going to take an ad, but they want to be the last ones, put you over the hill."
Feisty former governor dislikes journalists but teaches them anyway
?("In fact, I am very anti-press. I don't like the people in the press. I never got along with them. So it was strange to go into teaching a
journalism class.") [Caption]
?(? Former Maryland Gov.William Donald Schaefer) [Photo & Caption]


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