University of Massachusetts j-school professor Howard Ziff died Tuesday (he was 81), and his obituaries provide excellent reading:
“He was more of a city editor than even a real city editor,” fellow U-Mass prof and Pulitzer winner Madeleine Blais told Nick Grabbe. “Young men and women came to feel like they had met the real thing. He had a gruff exterior, was good with one-liners, smoked a pipe and claimed to have a bottle of Scotch in his desk. He influenced them profoundly.”
A version of one story – William Perkins provides perhaps the definitive version – pops up in a lot of the tributes:
He was later hired in 1958 by the Chicago Daily News, a publication that he worked at in various capacities for 10 years.
Ziff was working as the night city editor there in 1968 when he found out that Martin Luther King Jr. had been killed.
“He turned to one of his reporters, and said, ‘Find Rosa Parks,’” said [U-Mass journalism professor Ralph] Whitehead. “They found her. She had been living quietly in Detroit.”
To illustrate the point that reporters would have to learn to write despite newsroom distractions, Ziff used some unusual methods. Digging through a Facebook page dedicated to Ziff, an Associated Press story unearths this gem:
“He gives everyone a short set of facts and allows 10 minutes to write a brief news story,” a former student named Steve Semple wrote. “Only this time, he fires up a very loud boom box with some up-tempo big band music. As it plays, Howard dances up and down the aisles singing, snapping his fingers and really getting into the groove. Right up into peoples’ faces. Distractions indeed.”