GREENVILLE – Darke Countians have a lot to be proud of in native Lowell Thomas, according to Mitchell Stephens.
Stephens is a professor of journalism and mass communications at the Carter Institute at New York University (NYU) and author of “The Voice of America: Lowell Thomas and the Invention of 20th Century Journalism”, recently published by St. Martin’s Press. While Stephens is not a new author-he has written several books on journalism and media history-this is his first biography.
“Lowell Thomas was as well-known in his time as any journalist in the United States has ever been,” Stephens said. “He had changed journalism as much as any journalist in the United States. And the fact that his name is not well known today, would be shocking to anybody in his time. There is a reason his birthplace was moved to Garst Museum. He was that important and better known than most movie stars.”
On Sunday, October 29, at 2 p.m., Stephens will kick off the Fall and Winter Speaker Series at Garst Museum. Stephens will discuss his new biography and will preview an upcoming documentary of Thomas’s life. According to President and CEO of Garst Museum, Clay Johnson, Ph.D., the Lowell Thomas “Lawrence (of Arabia) and Beyond” exhibit, at Garst, is filled with numerous photos of historic figures Lowell Thomas had met, interviewed, and befriended during his worldwide travels and career, such as Lawrence of Arabia. Lowell Thomas was born in Woodington, Ohio on April 6, 1892, to Harry and Harriet Thomas.
“I feel the most historically significant artifact housed in the Garst Museum is the 1917 surrender flag of Jerusalem,” Johnson said. “The white flag, torn from a hospital bed sheet, marks the time when the Ottoman Empire surrendered the city to the British during World War One. Lowell Thomas was there covering British General Edmund Allenby. At that time, Thomas’s career was only just starting as he was the voice of a generation and leader in radio, film, and print.”
Johnson is also working with a museum in Israel, with regards to the surrender flag and its exhibit on the 100th anniversary.
According to Stephens, Thomas was the first of respected national journalists, and in the same arena with such respectful standing as Edward R. Murrow, who took on Senator Joseph McCarthy, and Walter Cronkite who questioned a victory after returning from Vietnam, in 1968. They had such stature to make a difference, Stephens said. The following is a quote Stephens wrote in his book:
“Indeed, Lowell Thomas deserves a significant part of the credit for the journalism that came into being in America in the 21st century—a fact-filled, story-based ostensibly non-partisan journalism, which traveled widely, examined energetically, proclaimed authoritatively and was not much concerned with what it failed to notice or understand. Thomas did much to create, in other words, the journalism out of which twenty-first century journalism was born, and against which twenty-first century journalism has been trying to establish itself.”
In his own way, like Thomas, Stephens has an opportunity to impact emerging journalists.
“I enjoy a lot about being a professor,” Stephens said. “It is just having the privilege of going into a room a couple days a week and talking about ideas and issues with a bunch of very bright and interested young people. It’s been great to watch journalism change. It was a very formulaic enterprise, when I first started teaching. We were teaching people where to put the “where”, the “who” and how to exactly format a quotation. The field has opened up and it feels to be a more creative enterprise; more worthy of an inclusion in a university curriculum.”
One class Stephens is teaching, is an introductory lecture class for NYU’s journalism students.
“Being a non-fiction writer is a constant struggle, to match your words to what you have seen; it is hard,” he said. I tell my students frequently: journalism is difficult. If it is not difficult, then you are not doing journalism.”
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