Former Ohio State Journalism Student Helps Pulitzer Winner Teach with Grace

Posted on March 15, 2013

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Cory Shaffer and I met in the first class on my first day of full-time employment at Ohio State in the Autumn of 2010. It was a second-level journalism class, and blond, bespectacled, Cory was on the far right in the second row. He was quiet but contributory, with a quick wit and an easy-going manner. He worked at Northstar, arguably Columbus’ best organic restaurant, and we discussed its food–a lot. We also talked social justice, one of Cory’s passions, and his desire to make a difference.

He recently had a surprisingly significant impact on one Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist.

It seems one of Cory’s articles in the Sun Star-Courier about the Strongsville teachers’ strike came to the attention of Connie Schultz, a legendary Cleveland reporter who won journalism’s highest prize for column writing and is married to Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown. Schultz, who I enjoy following on Facebook (especially the varied photos of her dog, Franklin), criticized the story to her 113,000+ Facebook followers for simply quoting people who criticized the teachers and not including responses from the teachers. She called the article “unacceptable,” and many of her commenters agreed.

All except Cory, who responded in the thread with his own comment:

“Hi Ms. Schultz, I am the reporter who wrote this story, and I absolutely respect your comments, but would like to point out a few things I think they failed to acknowledge.

“I’ve written at least one – sometimes more – story per day about the teachers’ strike since the teachers issued the 10-day intent to strike Feb. 21. I’ve written stories about the run-up to the strike, going back to 2008, when teachers took $500,000 in concessions, in 2010 when they took more than $2 million in salary freezes and lost planning time. I’ve detailed the proposals from each side, as well as articles about the funding cuts the district has faced from the state government. Since the first day of the strike alone, I’ve written 18 posts – some short, some long – detailing arguments on both sides, and I even wrote a 25 inch article March 8 quoting former governor Strickland, SEA president and a representative from Sen. Brown’s office at length – and I’ve done all this while continuing to cover city government, police, features and business news in a city of 45,000 people.

“I know from being on the ground in Strongsville day after day that there are a significant people who do not support the teachers’ strike, and until Friday they had not shown up as a group. I don’t treat every article on this issue like it’s the end-all, be-all of the coverage – in its eighth day with no sign of ending, this is going to be an issue for a long time. I hope my coverage is taken as a collective, and all sides are equally represented in the coverage as a whole.

“Your comments about failing to get a quote from a teachers union representative is well taken. I’m in my first year as a professional journalist out of undergrad and sometimes I goof up….”

The exchange led Schultz to call Cory to a) apologize, b) offer advice from her decades in the trenches, and c) post again on Facebook–this time about the thoughtful young man from whom she had just experienced her own life lesson.

“Had our roles been reversed, I would not have been as gracious as Cory,” Schultz wrote. “Clearly, I, too, must continue to learn from my mistakes.”

The dialogue led to a piece March 14 on the Columbia Journalism Review site under the headline, “Friend-Me Journalism,” and led Cory to send me a tweet at 11:50 a.m.: “You never stop learning. Thanks for all you guys taught me.”

As Connie Schultz can no doubt attest, it is often our students who teach us far more than we ever realize, and it is a gift to us who share their lives for such a relatively short time that it never ends.

Thanks, Cory.

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