Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Big Bang? Got There Early so He'd Have a Good Seat

As usual, I took my reporting class to the Chronicle yesterday to fire them up about a career in journalism to the degree there's still any heat in those ashes. There's some. We met the new "blog editor," who guides and encourages the Chron writers and editors in the art of the blog.

She's about 12 years old. And she went to USF. And she didn't take any journalism courses....

Anyway, on such forays, you are always afraid your students will say something -- or do something, such as falling asleep while standing up -- that will embarrass you among your former newsroom colleagues. But I have been gone from the Chron so long I have faded from ghost to invisible man, so the only possible embarrassment would come from my tugging at sleeves and saying, "I used to work here, you know?"

But no embarrassment yesterday. One of my few remaining newsroom friends, the inestimable and super Nanette Asimov, took us on a fine tour, including a visit with another friend from the old days, Science Writer Dave Perlman, who really is a living treasure, an authentic great man.

My students did me proud. "Ask him the two embarrassing questions you hate to ask," I said and finger-snap they did:

How much do you make?

How old are you?

And finger-snap he replied:

I won't tell you, but I think I have the union contract in my drawer, and that will tell you what the Guild minimum is. (Implication: Like I make the minimum. Hah.)

I'm 87.

The students were thrilled and amazed, first by the prospect of living that long and second by the spectacle of wit and competence from a point in time so remote from their own.

They glowed. I glowed. An incandescent Thomas Edison moment.

And then Dave gave them some last wisdom. What science writers must seek to serve is science knowledge and science truth. There's this thing now called Intelligent Design, which is a Halloween mask for this thing called Creation Science, he said, and it's all about ignorance of how nature works, and it is rotting American science education and thus American education generally. (I'm paraphrasing, perhaps adding some intensity.)

I don't know if this made my students glow, but it did me. So much for false "fair and balanced." So much for postmodern relativism. At the end of the day there are some things worth calling a fact, and the job of the journalist is facing *that* fact.

1 comment:

David Perlman said...

Tell your class I'm so old I covered the Big Bang before it happened --had an exclusive story predicting it, and I'm now riding aboard the Inflationary Universe -- me and the Neanderthal guy I'm writing about right now. (And thanks for the kind words!)