Letters from the Issue of July 14, 2005

Dying newspapers, ATV defenders, and tough-talking college deans

Miami Is Not Seattle

Which is why reggaeton crushes indie rock:In his article "Out of Step" (July 7), Mosi Reeves writes that Miami, unlike most cities, lacks a "vibrant indie culture." Translation: White people are not the majority in Miami. But is this a bad thing? Miami is like no other city in the nation, so why aspire to be a bad copy of NYC, San Francisco, Chicago, or Seattle?

Let's face it, indie rock is never going to have the same impact here as in other American cities. And it's going to take a lot more than a new record store and a few indie club nights to change that. Followers of indie should be happy Miami offers them clubs and other social outlets for their music. But they also have to come to terms with the truth: They are fighting a losing battle.

The sound that has taken hold of Miami is reggaeton. Listen as it pours out of every car stereo in every corner of the city. I know New Times assumes its readership consists of homesick white kids listening to the White Stripes and dreaming of sunny days in hipster Williamsburg. But that's dead wrong.

Please, cover reggaeton. Better yet, put it on the cover as other progressive publications have done. Ignoring reggaeton in Miami is not only offensive, it's just wrong.

José Davila

Miami Beach

Change or Die

If you were Rachel Reeves, which would you choose?Thank you to New Times and Rebecca Wakefield for her story about the [black-oriented] Miami Times ("Changing Times," June 30). It was a historically significant piece of reporting and a real wake-up call for publisher Rachel Reeves. Hopefully she will see it in a constructive light -- because if not, the paper is doomed. That would be a very big shame, since the importance and social relevance of this newspaper to the black community is immeasurable.

I like to believe it is never too late to "teach an old dog new tricks," and that if Ms. Reeves puts arrogance aside and really wants to leave a lasting legacy, she can choose today to begin down a different road. She doesn't have to be known as the person who ran Miami Times into the ground, but can be seen as an intelligent woman who listened to the voices of the changing times.

Susan Root

African Village Gifts

Miami

ATVs: Not Just Arsonists and Thieves

Take my husband -- please: If those people are causing a ruckus by riding their ATVs in the agricultural areas mentioned by Kris Conesa in "Rural Ruckus" (June 30), I assume it is illegal. So where isit legal to ride ATVs in the Homestead area?

I think it should also be noted not all ATV riders are destructive of property and possessions that don't belong to them. Some ATV riders, like my husband, ride for the sport and fun of it. They stay on the trails that have been created by previous riders and don't set other people's land afire or steal their tractors.

The article made out all ATV riders to be careless and evil people. That is simply not the case.

Corinne Baez

Homestead

ATVs: A Family Affair

Trust me, my wife and kids are not pyros: I own four ATVs -- one for me, one for my wife, and two for my children, who are nine and seven. We don't go around setting farmland on fire or stealing tractors. Just how did the "ATV gang" steal a trailer? I find it hard to believe you can tow a big trailer with an ATV. And if anyone tries to throw gas out of a can while driving an ATV, in order to set a farm on fire, he is probably going to set himself on fire.

Not everyone on an ATV is a thief or a pyromaniac. Everyone I ride with has a respectable job; we pay for what we own. Several friends I ride ATVs with are in law enforcement and on the fire department, so do not generalize about the sport if you don't know what you're talking about.

Ismael Trujillo

Miami

Weeds Keep Me Awake at Night

Yes, I worry about them smothering us all: A big thumbs-up to New Times and Wyatt Olson for his article on the Old World climbing fern ("Die, Weed, Die," June 23). It is important to me and many other biologists and land managers that the public know what Old World climbing fern and the myriad other invasive exotic plants and animals are doing to the natural areas of our fair state. We need to do everything we can to stop, or at least stymie, the worst of them. It's chilling to know that right behind the wholesale destruction and development of our natural areas, the invasion of what's left by exotic species is the greatest threat to our native plant and animal communities.

I work as a biologist at a wildlife refuge on the west side of the Everglades. My refuge is closed to the public and it's about as undisturbed as it gets, and yet I find Old World climbing fern growing in even the most remote swamps. The biological control work being done by the Invasive Plant Research Laboratory helps me sleep at night.

Now, as much as I'd like to keep writing, I have weeds to kill. I can feel them growing, growing, growing ...

Dennis Giardina

Immokalee

FIU Speaks

From the dean to the world, including disgruntled former employees: I am writing this letter to correct factual errors in Edmund Newton's recent article regarding the School of Journalism and Mass Communication (SJMC) at Florida International University ("Newsroom or Classroom," June 9). I also want to add a few important facts he failed to include in his article.

The article charges that I and the school censored student journalists writing for an experimental classroom Website. The disgruntled former employees referenced in the article have put a spin on some routine management decisions that ultimately benefited all involved. The picture painted in the article is colorful, but is completely inaccurate.

As a board member of the Student Press Law Center and as a frequent speaker about freedom of the press, I take the First Amendment rights of all citizens very seriously, including those of students. I have worked to protect those rights for more than two decades. At the same time, I have an obligation to protect the best interests of FIU and SJMC -- and those interests were not well served by a Website without key standards of professional journalism: editorial policy and administrative oversight. The New Times article says I pulled three articles from the Website. I did not. The Website was not student-run; it was set up by an instructor who made all decisions about what was placed on it. As the editor, he had the right to remove those stories, and he did so in consultation with faculty members, including Kevin Hall.

But more important, I take the good name and reputation of SJMC very seriously. I must point out that if New Times had given as many column inches to the words of those who actually work here, readers would have learned exactly how we have overhauled SJMC to prepare journalism, television, advertising, and public-relations students for professions that have grown more ethnically diverse and globally interconnected than ever before. We have revitalized a school that became outdated under the old administration.

New Times readers would also have heard how we've infused the curriculum with international and multicultural-oriented courses. Readers would have learned we have vastly improved our writing program by teaching the tools of the trade -- grammar, AP style, story structure, et cetera -- beginning with the first writing course they take, through the entire set of required writing courses. This is a dramatic change from the way J. Arthur Heise and Mr. Hall approached the teaching of writing.

Readers also would have learned that the source of Mr. Hall's frustration is the fact that after he notified the school he would not renew his contract to provide SJMC with use of the "writing exam" he was selling to the school (a conflict of interest, in our view), we readily replaced it with a more modern test patterned after the one used at the University of North Carolina.

Finally, readers would have learned that the faculty attrition owing to retirements and voluntary resignations has allowed us to hire journalists with recent field experience instead of depending on "grizzled old reporters" who haven't written a word in a decade or more.

The SJMC has a distinguished record of producing awarding-winning print and television journalists, as well as advertising and public-relations professionals, and has a distinguished record of research and service from its faculty. We are continually working to improve our curriculum to make it even more responsive to the needs of today's students and their employers. We invite the South Florida media community to join us in our efforts rather than trying to undermine them.

Lillian Lodge Kopenhaver, dean

School of Journalism and Mass Communication

Florida International University

Disgruntled Speaks

From grizzled old reporter to FIU, including the dean: Sadly, Lillian Lodge Kopenhaver's letter confirms the self-destruction under way at FIU's once-respected journalism program. Instead of addressing forthrightly the serious issues of lost values and lowered standards at the school, Dean Kopenhaver responds to the story in three hackneyed ways.

First, attack the messengers: Call them "disgruntled," a cheap and pejorative buzzword carefully chosen to spin the belittling image of "small-minded and vengeful" -- without directly saying as much (because she couldn't defend it). Call them "grizzled old reporters who haven't written a word in more than a decade" to make their criticism impotent. This is a mighty accomplished group of disgruntled educators and journalists who have left the school. They were reporters, and then they were editors, and after that they were dedicated teachers who have devoted the past ten or twenty years to sharing their experiences. Their criticisms should be taken seriously. Yet she characterizes them as old and out of touch -- ironic stuff coming from someone who is of similar age to the people she damns as old, who is far less accomplished than they are professionally, and who is removed from her own small journalism experience by nearly four decades. If she believes what she says, then she too should step aside.

Second, blame the help and suggest (without exactly saying it, because it too wouldn't be true) that the messenger was complicit in the wrongdoing. In defending the FIU administration against charges of censorship, Kopenhaver says an instructor (who, by the way, was later named chair of journalism) pulled the student articles. She says he did it "after consultation with faculty members including Kevin Hall." That statement is a disturbing breach of journalistic standards because it was deliberately crafted to convey an untrue message -- that I supported the decision on censorship. I was not even informed about the censorship until students met with me to complain after it occurred.

Third, and this is truly Talibanesque for the head of a journalism school, wag a condemning finger at the newspaper for publishing the story: Kopenhaver says in her letter that New Times was "trying to undermine" the school and that the proper role of the newspaper would have been to "join with us in our efforts."

That's the role of journalism? In what country?

Kevin Hall

Plantation

Who would have guessed there was a tweetle involved? Reporters should strive for a fair and balanced story. Unfortunately Edmund Newton's article "Newsroom or Classroom" never addressed the real victims: the journalism students at FIU.

In the fall 2003 semester I was a student in Kevin Hall's "Writing Strategies," also known as writing boot camp. To be admitted to the class you had to achieve a 65 score on the infamous grammar test on "The Word Association" Website. The way students and faculty spoke about the test, I felt I had to genuflect after I dared to breathe the name. (I was admitted with a 65 but I failed twice to achieve a higher score required to exit the class.)

I was told specifically to not look at other grammar books but to study from the Website only. I questioned why I had to rely on Hall as the only grammar expert. That was the first hint of trouble. Some of the test questions were bizarre while others had changing answers. Here is one of the stranger questions:

Choose the answer that best describes the [BRACKETED] words: "When beetles fight these battles in a bottle with their paddles and the bottle's on a poodle and [the poodle's eating noodles], they call this a muddle puddle tweetle poodle beetle noodle bottle paddle battle."

Reference: Dr. Seuss

Answers:

1. Dependent clause

2. Independent clause

3. Independent phrase

4. Dependent phrase

I soon found out that the only way to pass the test was to take private tutoring lessons from the lab assistant who monitored the test. The lessons were more about how to take the test than grammar.

So far no one has asked me anything about poodles in a muddle, noodles with a tweetle, or beetles battling the bottle. But thanks to Kevin Hall, I am ready for that question when I land my first job at a newspaper.

Helen Berggren

Miami

Erratum

Owing to an editing error, the photograph of the group Secret P.E. Club, which accompanied Jessica Sick's article "Pop Punk Balanced" (July 7), was not properly credited. The photograph was taken by Challen Berg.

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