Wednesday, May 6, 2015

A Future Washington World That Was Not -OR- Anti-Mentors and Dashed Journalism Dreams (Plus a Belated Apology to Eleanor Merrill)

The cover of the print edition "Washingtonian" magazine April 2015 edition.

The accompanying series of articles were collectively entitled "Capital of the Future: The Stunning Changes Coming to Our Region - And What They Mean for How (and Where) You'll Live, Work, and Play". I'd link to these articles, but they're all behind a(n objectively pro-Republican) pay wall.

The picture is intriguing: A view down the National Mall from the U.S. Capitol toward the Washington Monument and downtown D.C. set at some unspecified point in the future but, if I had to "guess" on it, at least a century hence (i.e., early 22nd Century), possibly more.

The Washington Monument silhouetted by the setting Sun in a picture that I took on September 18, 2014 (i.e., right around the autumnal equinox).

This is also looking right down the axis of the National Mall to the west.

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Based on the setting Sun angle, it is either mid-to-late winter (i.e., late January to mid-February, none of which makes no sense given all the greenery -- even in a globally warmed world) or mid-fall (mid-October into November). The imagery, though, suggests a techno-utopian quasi-utopia of Washington Consensus dreams. "Uncle" Fred Hiatt probably got all tingly all over just looking at it.


Being the Washingtonian magazine, it was hard to thumb through the actual hardcopy -- which, of note, I procured from the laundry room in my building, as someone has simply discarded it in there -- to find the articles because of all the ads and clutter. The back pages don't seem to contain all the sexual-themed personals, etc., that I recall in years gone by. I guess the internets took care of that.

A ginormous cumulonimbus cloud looms large behind the U.S. Capitol Building in this undated photo by Phil Yabut posted in this CWG entry.

(The Capitol dome is currently encased in scaffolding.)

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Eleanor Merrill is the chairman and her daughter Catherine Merrill Williams is the current publisher. She took over as publisher for a time after her husband, Phil, died under mysterious circumstances in June 2006 while sailing alone. At one point, the Merrill family owned Capital-Gazette Communications, Inc., which published the Washingtonian as well as at least five Maryland newspapers including The Capital in Annapolis, Md., and the ridiculous Maryland Gazette that "serves" Glen Burnie and northern Anne Arundel County. (The Maryland Gazette once had a headline back in the late 1980s misspelling "Glasnost" as "Glosnost" -- on the front page print edition.)

However, I think the papers were sold off leaving only the Washingtonian with the Merrill family.

Phil Merrill gave so much money to the Univ. Md., College Park's journalism college that it was named for him: The Philip Merrill College of Journalism. This occurred around the time I was there.

One of my three masters degrees -- along with part of my gargantuan student loan debt -- comes from that program, which was far and away the worst of the three (the meteorology was OK, but a bit of a scam and the public policy was the correct one).

The journalism college only wants to turn out pretty young female TV reporters and had no use for a confused 30-something "public affairs print journalist" wannable such as I was back in the early 2000s.

My four UMCP degrees -- an undergraduate and three masters -- arrayed in their quarter million dollar splendor in my dusty apartment in a blurry picture I took back in June 2009.

I could retake the picture but don't really feel like doing so right now.

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Indeed, much of the period of 1999 - 2010 was more or less a non-stop disaster with a few punctuated "good" periods including, ironically and in retrospect, the 9 months I was out of the District and living with Phil in Silver Spring (in particular, fall 2004 into early 2005). It wasn't until I got my current job that things started to turn around.

For journalism, here is the rule: One should almost never get more than an undergraduate broadcast journalism degree, and even then it should be a minor to another degree. NEVER, EVER get a graduate degree in journalism unless you want to teach it.

As For me, the program was a $70,000 sham that got absorbed into the sky-trillion dollar student loan system and -- in my case -- the University "System" of Maryland and its Ur-Daddy, William E. Kirwan. (As an aside, I had a dream the other night in which I was in an ugly argument with him about Norway's health care system and why ours isn't better. Yes, I know it means something else.)

Also in my case, the two then-assistant deans of the College of Journalism, Greig Stewart and Chris Callahan, were the worst in terms "mentoring" -- indeed, they were the anti-mentors for me.

Chris Callahan actively worked against me -- actually removing my name off a list for some interview with some newspaper recruiters (looking for free summer interns) for reasons that I still don't fully understand.

Left: Chris Callahan some years ago.

In retrospect, I should have gone to the UMCP Provost when he did that rather than just sending him an angry email and cc'ing the other one. Callahan is now dean elsewhere -- in Arizona -- working his magic, I'm sure, he's working his magic there to ensure that there are plenty of telegenic, young female reporters of all hues in the program.

You see, Dear Reader, it's the pretty, young female broadcast reporters who represent "the wave of the future" of American journalism and any journalism school worth its foundation and endowment money actively seeks them out.

As for Greig Stewart, he was beyond useless in helping me navigate journalism graduate school. Indeed, my chief memory of him is an incredibly ugly sneer he gave me when I made some stupid comment upon getting accepted into the program and looking forward to the "rhythms of life as a student." God, I was an idiot.

Stewart subsequently oversaw another UMCP academic money-making operation: College Park "Scholars", although it looks as though he retired.

To be clear, in my life, I've never had "mentors" and instead I've had anti-mentors -- those who went out of their way not to help me -- and they were certainly two of them, and I feel perfectly justified in saying that in this forum.

Only the wonderful Carol L. Rogers and the awesome Carl Sessions Stepp -- pictured at left -- were good instructors for me (even if I got an "F" grade on one assignment in Prof. Stepp's class for misspelling a name, something he warned us that he would do).

That'll teach you to mess around with libel laws! And, indeed, I ALWAYS verify name spellings no matter if it is Joe Smith (since it could be spelled Jo Smyth).

Anyway, the bottom line is that for me, in the end, it was only the public policy degree that really worked out.

My Master of Public Policy (MPP) degree next to the UMPC mascot "Testudo" by McKeldin Library, June 12, 2009.

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In retrospect, the journalism school stint was a huge and costly mistake. I should have just gotten my undergraduate degree in physics and gone straight into public policy, even skipping the meteorology masters degree (no matter how much of a "curio" is it for people and although it has helped me advance in some respects -- including getting into the public policy school).

Why I went into journalism is the topic for another entry. In the end, it was a reality for me that never was.

As for Eleanor Merrill, alas, I had a singularly unfortunate interaction with her one morning. Long story short, the journalism school was having were having a formal "breakfast" and I was seated at one of the tables -- right next to her. Being in the morning, I was in a frenetic state, and I rode my bike there. I think I was still living in College Park at the time so it must have been 2000.

Eleanor Merrill (second from the right) , her daughter (second from the left) and some other "local notables" at a Washingtonian event in January 2012. The tall figure is former Senator and former Virginia Governor George "Macaca" Allen, a supremely slimy figure even by contemporary standards.

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She was an old, thin, wrinkled woman with a big personality and was wearing a cocktail dress (at 9AM). Anyway, we all had folded name tags at the tables were we were to sit. I happened to be right next to her. It said my name: Richard Todaro. I came in late and everyone was already there. She looked at me, smiled, and said, "You're Richard? Do you like to be called DICK??"

Everybody snickered and I started fuming and cursing under my breath -- inappropriately so.

Eventually, I had a pleasant enough chat with her but that was a disaster and pretty much unrecoverable in terms of a useful "connection" -- which is what the D.C. journalism world is all about once you strip away the requirement to work for free for five years as an "intern."

I probably should apologize to her for that. She meant no harm. She was an older woman and that was the nickname for Richard way back when. So I apologize to you, Mrs. Merrill (not that she'll ever actually see this blog entry).

I also felt badly for her when her husband died (it was determined to be a suicide).

There was a nice quote she gave the media about how he died as he would have wanted to: with the wind at his back sailing on the water.

OK, I guess that's about all for now.

The National Airport control tower as seen from the Mount Vernon bicycle trail, 6:29PM May 3, 2015.

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As the briefest of updates, I had a decent gym workout tonight after a busy day at work. I'm not taking the computer home tomorrow night as I am supposed to have drinks and/or dinner with Natan as Thursday is his last day in the office, and he is leaving the D.C. area (initially to do a 300 mile hike with friends on the John Muir Trail in California, all while I sit in a D.C. cubicle somewhere in the L'Enfant Plaza no-man's land).

The Potomac River as seen from the Mount Vernon bike trail with the Washington Monument and Jefferson Memorial visible on the other side and a jet on final down-river approach into National Airport, 6:35PM May 3, 2015.

I had just left the littered, overcrowded chaos of Gravelly Point on a warm Sunday afternoon.

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We had a brief downpour / t-storm this evening that washed the gunk out of the air and cooled it down a bit and dropped a bit of rain (0.05" at KDCA). The temperature dropped from a too-warm high of 86F to 70F in short order.

OK, that really is all for now.

--Regulus

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