Monkey Business

July 23, 2013

During the summer weeks, "From the Director" will bring to you some of our favorite entries from previous years. Today's blog first appeared Aug. 24, 2012.

I hesitate to assert that my wife and I are hikers, but we certainly are avid walkers. Walking is a routine of our daily life; and it’s a highlight when we travel. Walking is the means by which we absorb the sights, sounds and smells of each locale, while faster modes of tourism pass us by.

One of my wife’s delights as we travel is to discover monkeys in the wild; so sometimes monkey sighting has been the goal of walks, for example, in Costa Rica and Panama. This has made us familiar with howler monkeys; and I’m sorry to say, it’s caused me to see parallels between howler monkeys and modern media.

The growls of the howler monkeys send messages through the treetops. One howler begins, and others forward the message for miles. I’ve been told by locals (I’m no expert) that the monkey culture doesn’t reward creativity and that there’s an expectation that the message at the end of the line is the same as it began.

Sort of like forwarding an email, photo or video; or sharing a posting on Facebook. Or like the wire services’ distribution of news through traditional media. It’s rare that anyone vets the information; and retractions or corrections are even rarer.

I read in Barbara Kingsolver’s novel The Lacuna that the most important thing about a story, and about a person, is what you don’t know, which gets to the heart of the weakness of much of modern media. Yes, because of the volume of information in today’s 24/7/365 “news” cycle with thousands of channels and the universal access to reporting news through social media, we’re likely to get most of the facts, eventually; but the salient and true facts are likely to be lost in the rush and the clutter.

Set at a time before television, Kingsolver’s protagonist in The Lacuna writes in 1946: “The newsmen leap on anything . . . The radio is the root of the evil, their rule is: No silence, ever. When anything happens, the commentator has to speak without a moment’s pause for gathering wisdom. Falsehood and inanity are preferable to silence. You can’t imagine the effect of this. The talkers are rising above the thinkers.”

However real that observation would have been then, it’s clear today that cable television, talk radio and the Internet have raised the talking-without-thinking effect to heights that would have been unimaginable in the 1940s.

Cheering for Sportsmanship

July 31, 2018

(This blog first appeared on on January 8, 2013.)

I try to start each new school year at the Michigan Interscholastic Press Association summer camp at Michigan State University. I talk briefly about who the MHSAA is and what it does; and then two or three dozen high school newspaper editors and writers ask me questions; and in doing so, they give me clues to what’s going on in our schools and what’s important to our students.

Several years ago, when I opened the session to questions, one young man asked: “Mr. Roberts, what’s your job?” I paused, and then said, “I guess I’m the head cheerleader for high school sports in Michigan.”

So then this precocious student asked: “Okay, what do you cheer for?”  With a briefer pause, this is some of what I said:

  • I cheer for sportsmanship that’s not merely good, but great.

  • I cheer for sportsmanship, not gamesmanship.

  • I cheer for playing by the rules, both the letter and the spirit.

  • I cheer for maximum effort to try to win each and every contest.

  • I don’t cheer for winning at any cost; I do cheer for learning at every opportunity.

  • I cheer for losing with grace and for winning with even greater grace, with humility and modesty.

  • I cheer for the lessons of victory and the even greater lessons of defeat.