Don Gale: Bucket lists, dreams and the future of journalism

FILE - This April 21, 2018, file photo shows the front page of the Perspective section of The Denver Post from Sunday, April 8, in Denver. The Post's Editorial Page Editor Chuck Plunkett, who oversaw an editorial critical of budget and staff cuts made by the newspaper's New York-based hedge fund owners, said he resigned Thursday, May 3, after management rejected a second editorial lamenting Alden Global Capital’s behavior. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

I don’t have a bucket list. I’ve already done most of the things that end up on bucket lists.

I traveled to places you’ve heard about and exotic places you didn’t know existed. I enjoyed champagne on the Concord at a 1,000 miles per hour up near the edge of space, and I sailed near an Atlantic hurricane aboard the Q.E. II while enjoying dinner in a tuxedo. I was quizzed by the KGB in Dushanbe, shot at in Beirut and arrested in Managua. I ate green liver in Manila, goat stew in Samarkand and sweetbreads on a farm in Argentina. I milked cows, picked cherries (2 cents a lug) and baled hay. I tended dozens of rose bushes, trimmed a 90-foot-long pyracantha hedge and trained a plum tree to grow horizontally.

I skied, played tennis and sprained ankles in basketball games. I got to know the rich and famous ... and the poor and forgotten. I taught bright young men and women, and entertained older folks in care centers. I was awarded two doctorates – one earned and one honorary. I collected too many honors, awards and tributes. I studied chemistry, physics, anatomy, English, music and journalism. I read Chaucer, Shakespeare, Faulkner, Homer, St. Paul, King Benjamin, Bertrand Russell, Winston Churchill, Toynbee and countless others. I wrote a novel, short stories, editorials, columns and even a little bad poetry. I was elected president or chair of national organizations and local groups.

In other words, my bucket is full — just waiting for the final kick.

But I have nurtured a dream for a quarter century. (“One dream,” said Snoopy, “is worth a bushel of memories.”) I dream of an Institute of Journalism at my alma mater, the University of Utah, similar to the Hinckley Institute of Politics. I met with a former director of the Hinckley Institute to discuss the possibility of sharing staff, since certain functions of the two institutes would overlap. I also talked to wealthy donors, and I was making progress until the recession of 2008 zapped enthusiasm on the fiscal front.

(If we can raise millions to remodel the football stadium for six games a year, we can surely find eight or nine million to rescue the only profession protected by the United States Constitution.)

I wrote to leading journalists of my era to ask about attaching one of their names to the institute – Tom Brokaw, Fred Friendly, Ted Koppel, Bill Moyers, George Will. Most expressed interest but understandably wanted to see more progress before committing.

Journalism is vital to a functioning democracy. Reliable journalism is the only way citizens learn the truth about candidates, government, social challenges, business and everything else that happens (or does not happen) in a free society. But journalism is in trouble.

Big box stores killed local businesses and the advertising support they provided for newspaper, television and radio. Colleges merged journalism into departments of communication. That’s like merging surgery into the department of appendectomy. Anyone with a smart phone can file reports that look like news but are blatantly unchecked, untrue, and misleading. (Ask the Russians who toy with our elections.) Our uninformed president labels anything he doesn’t like, “fake news,” and calls journalists, “enemies of the people.”

The Institute of Journalism would promote traditional journalism values. It would bring to Utah qualified professionals to speak to students and the community. It would arrange internships for university students in New York, Washington and other news centers. It would critique local journalism outlets for performance and quality. It would help preserve the important daily history journalism creates. It would encourage academic research into ways to help local journalism survive in this age of misinformation, misunderstanding and misdirection.

An Institute of Journalism is not on anyone’s bucket list. But it should be on the wish list of everyone who cares about the future of this great nation. Ignorance is not compatible with freedom.

Don Gale.

Don Gale has been active in Utah journalism since 1958.