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Covering Kent State

Robert Giles, author of When Truth Mattered, will share profits from his book with the GroundTruth Project, a nonprofit journalism organization.

Giles' book recounts the shooting of Kent State students during an anti-Vietnam War rally 50 years ago and how his staff at the Akron Beacon Journal covered the tragedy that rocked the nation. Four students died and nine were wounded from bullets fired by soldiers of the Ohio National Guard.

The GroundTruth Project is committed to supporting a new generation of journalists in enterprise reporting projects on issues of social justice. Giles will donate 10 percent of the book's profits to GroundTruth each year.


"During a critical time," Giles said, "when citizens are dependent on deeply reported stories by reporters trained to ask hard questions, examine records and rely on experts who know the facts, there is no better contribution my book can make than to help young journalists learn to effectively report in a complex world.

"I admire Charles Sennott, the founder of the GroundTruth Project, and his untiring dedication to finding and preparing young journalists to carry forward the values of truth-telling and the ability to report with authority."

Giles was managing editor of the Beacon Journal on May 4, 1970, when soldiers of the Ohio National Guard were ordered to break up a demonstration against the Vietnam War. Instead of dispersing the demonstrators, the Guardsmen unexpectedly fired 61 bullets at them, an act that shocked the nation.

"The values of truth-telling and building trust with citizens at the heart of our reporting from Kent State 50 are the very ones the journalists in the GroundTruth Project are learning," Giles said.

GroundTruth focuses on narrative storytelling across media platforms, including digital, radio/podcast, television and documentary film. Human rights, freedom of expression, emerging democracies, the environment, religious affairs and global health are among the topics GroundTruth journalists pursue.

GroundTruth launched its flagship program, Report for America, in 2018 and has recently surged its initiative amid the COVID crisis, now supporting 225 reporters in 164 newsrooms to assist newsrooms struggling amid the downturn in the economy.The reporters serve in host newsrooms for up to two years. While most will be helping with COVID coverage at the beginning of their postings, eventually they will turn their focus on beats such as education, the environment, criminal justice and in under-covered corners of the communities where they are based. Think Teach for America or the Peace Corps for journalism.


See also by the Washington Post's Margaret Sullivan: 50 Years Ago, A Local Newspaper Dominated The Story Of The Kent State Tragedy. Could That Still Happen?


Comments welcome.


1. From Steve Rhodes:

First, I really resist the narrative so many mainstream journalists continue to purvey that newspapers used to really good at their jobs, which I really get a whiff of here; it's just plainly ahistorical. I can't speak to the Beacon Journal's coverage of Kent State, but it would be an unusual newspaper indeed if it's track record up to that point on such issues as Vietnam and, say, racial issues in their own community was anything near stellar, to put it politely. The history of newspaper journalism, while surely filled with impressive and inspiring high points, is mostly one of failure. (Just read Liebling's The Press, for starters.) In fact, that dismal record continues today; it seems like they bungle every big story that comes down the pike, be it the Iraq War or the novel coronavirus - with a smattering of Richard Jewell's in between. If only newspaper folk had a whit of self-reflection, they'd not only do their jobs better, hewing close to actual reality instead of official and/or invented narratives and massive race, class and gender bias, just to name a couple examples, they'd not only serve their readers and communities and nation and world better, but they'd have enough sense to understand their own economics and stop fighting the last false war against, say, Google and Facebook. Newspapers carried the U.S. government's line on Vietnam for an awful long time. Those who got it right were deemed dissenters and marginalized, as is usually the case. So there's a bit of misplaced righteousness expressed here by Mr. Giles.

To Sullivan's question: Of course a local newspaper can dominate a tragic story today. Haven't they been doing that for decades? Don't they usually win Pulitzers for doing so?

I also continue to be baffled by the fetishization of "local news." What newspapers in the country aren't "local," besides the New York Times and Washington Post, which in fact have local sections and, really, the federal government is at least geographically local to the Post.

Beyond that, as I've written before, most local newspapers - that is to say, most newspapers - suck. And the more local they are - the smaller they are - the more they suck. The more "local" they get, the more scared they get to challenge the powerful and wealthy in their towns, and they more apt they are to bend editorial integrity to the will of advertisers. I thought we all knew this?

This is not to render an opinion on Giles's book; I have not read it and thought it worthy to post news of it and its related charitable giving. I like Report for America, though it's incredibly sad it's necessary.

I just wonder if, in my lifetime, journalism will get a grip on itself.


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