This is a story about an amazing couple, John and Pegge Hlavacek, I met only a few years ago, decades removed from their adventures as globe-trotting foreign correspondents. Their fascinating stories are from way before my time but they are timeless because they personally speak to adventure, romance, intrigue, news, and history that they were there to experience and witness for themselves. Their life together was like something from a movie or a play or a book. John has published a series of memoirs written by himself and by his late wife Pegge that document much of their intrepid adventures. As my article notes, they don’t make couples like this anymore. The piece originally appeared in the New Horizons.
John and Pegge Hlavacek’s Gobe-Trotting Adventures as Foreign Correspondents
©by Leo Adam Biga
Originally published in the New Horizons
Prior to meeting, John and Pegge Hlavacek were young, intrepid reporters filing stories from news making capitals around the world. Then, when fate brought them together in Asia in 1951, they forged a life together that fed their mutual curiosity and hunger for adventure. It was all so Bogey and Bacall. Two dashing Americans falling in love in post-colonial India and the promise of its new democracy.
He was a breezy foreign correspondent. She, a posh former reporter-turned-public affairs officer. After marrying in Bombay and honeymooning in Rome, their whirlwind life took on all the intrigue and romance of a movie as they trailed after news from one exotic port of call to another. There was travel to fantastic spots. Hong Kong, Delhi, Darjeeling, the North Pole. Interviews with compelling world figures. Nehru, Indira Gandhi, the Dalai Lama. Memorable sights. The Taj. The Himalayas. Meeting visiting Chinese and Soviet premieres. Visiting palaces, temples, ruins, museums. Haggling in crowded bazaars. Rushing to catch trains, planes, boats, ferries. And, always, hurrying to meet deadlines and beat the competition.
Just like they broke the mold with Bogey and Bacall, they don’t make couples like the Hlavaceks anymore. What a match they made. He with his boyish enthusiasm, rakish charm and rugged good looks. She with her fresh, feisty, unspoiled spirit and down home wile. As exciting and enchanting a lifestyle as they led, what made it more storybook was that when Pegge met John, she was a widowed mother of fraternal twins she had with her first husband, who was killed in China. Gallant John took on the instant family and he Pegge soon added three children of their own.
The Hlavaceks’ years chasing stories and kids are told in two new books authored by Pegge, Diapers on a Dateline and Alias Pegge Parker, a pair of great reads written in her clean, colorful prose style. She actually wrote the manuscripts in the 1960s, but when she could not find publishers she put them away. After being stricken with Alzheimer’s a few years ago, John, who still cares for her at their Rockbrook area home in Omaha, unboxed the pages, read them again, and impressed, sent them off to an editor friend, who agreed they deserved a life in print. John then got them published via iUniverse, a vanity press in Lincoln, Neb.
Now 86, Hlavacek is proud of his wife’s work and glad, after all these years, to have finally seen her accounts of their rich lives on bookshelves. “She is a much better writer than I am,” he said. “Pegge has the gift of putting down in words a picture. She’s an excellent writer. I’m just a journeyman.” In a reflective mood these days, he’s writing his own memoirs from the diaries he kept and the letters he wrote during his early years overseas. In conversation, this unadorned man blithely recalls one fascinating chapter after another of his and Pegge’s foreign adventures, leaving the listener, if not himself, awed by the sheer magnitude of their stimulating lives.
A native of LaGrange, Illinois and a graduate of Carleton College (Minn.), where he was a star athlete, Hlavacek originally came to the Far East in 1939 to teach English in Chinese mission schools. He went on a fellowship from the Carleton-in-China exchange program, which his football teammates signed him up for while he recovered from appendicitis. The way it all came about, he said, is indicative of “how accidental my whole life is.” It was not the last time his life took a major detour as the result of some seemingly random act. Not a religious man, he chalks up all these events to “serendipity,” saying: “I’ve got a little star following me around. All of my life, nothing’s been planned. It just happened.”
Going to the other side of the world then was far from routine. “My folks were not too thrilled with the idea of my going,” he said. “In 1939…all they knew about China was famine and disease, and they thought they would never see me again. It was like going off to war.” War came soon enough.
In Peking, he took intensive language courses. By the end of his stay at the mission schools, where his status as the only American made him “a celebrity,” he spoke passable Chinese. On holidays, he traveled widely in-country and also got his first glimpses of India and Pakistan, visiting Rangoon, Calcutta, Agra, Dehli, Peshawar, the Khyber Pass and Kashmir. The first of two schools he taught in was comfortably outfitted. “We had a cook and a bearer and a valet.” At the second, situated on an old temple site, life was more “primitive,” he said. “I just had a little room for my office and another room for my bed. We had vegetable oil lamps.” He enjoyed his time over there. “I liked the Chinese. I got along with them very well. I had a ball.”
With the outbreak of WWII, he felt compelled to help the beleaguered native populace and, so, he signed on with the International Red Cross. He “fell in” with a group of Welshmen driving medical supplies over the Burma Road, a “rugged” job, as daunting for the red tape as the conditions. “Every time we went out, we had to get permits from the local officials to show where we were going and what we were doing,” he said. “Much of the road was mountainous, with switchback turns. Trucks had accidents. They got stuck in mud. Springs broke. Batteries died. But, fortunately, none of the people I was with ever got killed.”
He saw flashes of the war from places like Chintang and Chungking. “Japanese bombers would go over us, heading for Chengtu. One time, I was fortunate to survive a bombing raid,” he said.” We were down in a hotel dugout when a bomb landed on the front of us and another on the back of us. There was a lot of explosions.” After his Red Cross duty ended, he applied his language skills to the U.S. military attache as a decoder and interpreter, helping track troop movements.
In another example of the way things have fallen into place for Hlavacek, he was in a Chungking hotel one “cold, dreary, wet night” in February 1943 when he struck up a conversation with John Morris, eastern manager for the United Press news service. Hlavacek recreates the scene: “We had lots to drink and we were sobering up in the morning in front of a big fireplace when I said, ‘Mr. Morris, what does it take to be a United Press correspondent?’ He said, ‘What have you done?’ And I told him, ‘I’ve taught English and I speak Chinese.’ ‘You’re hired,’ he said. Thus, without a shred of newspapering experience, Hlavacek talked his way into a foreign correspondent’s job he made his life’s work the next 25 years.
One of his early assignments overseas saw him covering the American 14th Air Force commanded by Major General Claire Chennault. “I got a big scoop. I was the only American journalist when they evacuated the city of Heng Yang. The Japanese were coming down from Changsha. I was in the last jeep leaving the city.” On their way out, U.S. forces destroyed key installations to spoil the invaders’ advance, and by joining-in the patriotic Hlavacek found himself part of the story. “We blew up an airfield. We threw grenades into buildings to make them burn up,” he said. “It was a great story and I sent it in and they (UP editors) killed it. It never got published. You see, we had censorship at that time.” But his actions were recognized when he received a citation from Gen. Chennault for aiding the military.
It was not the last time Hlavacek aided those in need. His wife writes about a 1955 episode in which he and another journalist pulled wounded Indian protesters to safety after Portuguese troops fired on them. It was all in the line of duty, he said.
After Heng Yang, Hlavacek fell ill. Recuperating back in the states, he got a baptism-by-fire on the UP’s New York night cable desk. Sent back abroad, he rose through the ranks to bureau chief in Bombay, getting news from London by Morse code, editing and printing it off and then sending it out to papers via bicyclists. His territory extended across all of India and into Pakistan, Afghanistan and Ceylon. He employed stringers, but also reported, snapped pics and, later, shot TV footage himself, often doing all three on one story. “I got to know how to do all this just by doing it,” he said of his self-taught news career. It helped, he said, “to be nosey.”
He was there for the press conference announcing the partition of India. He lived through the Bombay riots of 1946 and ‘47. He once walked two hours with Mahatma Gandhi. He saw Nehru’s rise to and fall from grace and power. Everywhere he went, the big affable American was known for his good humor and winning way with kids. Besides a few scrapes with rebels, including being imprisoned in Nepal, and some bouts of dysentery, he emerged from Asia unscathed. The bachelor lived and breathed news in his UP post, which saw him cover everything from riots to celebrations and untouchables to heads of state, but nothing prepared him for the dark-haired American girl who stole his heart.
A native of Harrisburg, Pa., the former Margaret Lyons displayed an early aptitude for spinning tales and seizing opportunities, like the time, at age 17, she convinced the publisher of the Harrisburg Telegraph to start a youth column, Teen Topics, which she wrote while still a high school student. She wrote under the pen name Pegge Parker, which remained her non de plume the rest of her writing life. The column proved so popular that when she decided to try her luck in Washington, D.C., the publisher kept it as a regular feature. In the nation’s capital, Pegge landed a night reporting job with the Washington Times Herald, where she became a pet of its owner, Cissi Patterson, who liked the way she took the measure of congresswoman Clare Booth Luce in a piece. Plucky Peg’s wartime reporting from the homefront included first-hand features she did on maneuvers with the Tenth Armored Division and the Paratroop School in Fort Benning, Ga., complete with pics of “the Amazon girl” atop a Sherman tank and harnessed in a control tower chute.
One of the biggest exclusives she scored was an interview with Margaret Mitchell, who had retreated from public life after the sensation of her book, Gone With the Wind, and the mega-hit movie made from it.
Soon, however the beltway beat’s political wrangling and society finagling grew tiresome for Pegge. Her restlessness peaked so much that, in 1943, she got as far away from Washington as possible by taking a reporting job with the Daily News Miner in Fairbanks, Alaska. The great white wilderness, then not long removed from its untamed gold rush days, proved a rich news source for the young journalist, who met its salty characters, viewed its rough-hewn beauty and traveled to its remotest regions, even venturing to the Aleutian Islands and the North Pole. One of her stories, about a lottery awarding a gaudy cash prize to anyone guessing the exact time the ice breaks on a river, was published in the Readers Digest. Years later, Pegge said of her time in Alaska, “I loved every minute of it.”
Wanderlust called again in 1949 when, without knowing a word of the language, much less a single solitary soul, she embarked for China. She went, minus even a reporting gig, on pure blind faith things would work out. They did, too. The New York Daily News picked up the stories she filed from the Great Wall, Shanghai, Peking and the frontier mountain regions. Even though he didn’t know her yet, Hlavacek appreciates the spunk she exhibited then as “the girl on the go. Where I just kind of went along with things,” he said, “she went out and pursued them.”
It was in China she met and married her first love, Doug Mackiernan, an American scientist serving as an American vice consul in a distant and politically sensitive part of China. She bore him fraternal twins. When Communist-fired tensions rose there, she and the twins went to live in America, where Pegge got the news he’d gone missing. Weeks passed before it was confirmed he was killed by Tibetan border guards while fleeing China. At the time, the Chinese publicly accused Mackiernan of being a spy, allegations Pegge and U.S. officials refuted. Years later, it was revealed MacKiernan had indeed been a CIA agent.
Grief-stricken, she accepted her husband’s old post. Leaving the twins in the care of his parents in Boston, she went off to serve as a vice consul in Lahore, Pakistan before ending up a public affairs officer in Karachi. It was in Pakistan she met John. Despite a testy first encounter, the news hounds knew they’d found their match.
“We didn’t like each other at first. You have to understand, she was working for the government and I was a reporter, and there’s a natural antipathy there,” he said. Then there was the way he upbraided her for leaving her children at home while she went gallivanting about Asia. She explains in Diapers on a Dateline how, at first, she was enraged at his impudence. Then, she felt guilty, because she knew he was right. Finally, she was fascinated by this man who took such interest in reuniting a mother and her children. The die was cast. Their Bombay marriage took place in 1952 in the chapel of St. Xavier’s College, presided over by a friend of Hlavacek’s who was a Spanish Jesuit priest.
Headstrong personalities are bound to clash, and while John and Pegge have enjoyed 51 years of marital harmony, there’ve been times they’ve butted heads. “We’ve had our fights,” he said. “We’re both competitive.”
Raising five kids largely in a downtown Bombay hotel, with the family’s suite also serving as an office to Papa John, who was often away on assignment, the Hlavaceks somehow made it all work. Pegge ran things while he was gone, the ever-present typewriter strewn with diapers and toys. As if not hard enough making ends meet with seven mouths to feed, 11 counting the family’s bearer, driver, cook and their beloved aiha (nanny), Tai Bhai, the UP’s chintzy pay and shoestring budgets made matters worse. Pegge writes humorously about her obsession with shopping for bargain trinkets and relics from the wallas (peddlers-merchants) she could never refuse. The couple’s many homes have been adorned with the artifacts and just plain junk they’ve acquired over the years.
What hardships the family endured, they will tell you, were more than made up for by the enriching experiences they shared among themselves and with the world.
The Hlavaceks broke some of their biggest news stories in India. John befriended Tenzing Norgay, head sherpa on Sir Edmund Hillary’s historic Everest ascent, and told his tale for the first time in a UP story syndicated around the world. When John learned famed Italian filmmaker Roberto Rossillini, then married to Ingrid Bergman, was having an illicit tryst with a much younger married woman, he enlisted Pegge to get the scandalous goods, and she did. Pegge also made a splash when she co-authored a story with Nehru’s sister about the Indian prime minister.
When the rival Associated Press cut into UP’s India market, John lost his job in 1957. With things looking bleak he then received — “out of the blue” — the Council of Foreign Relations’ Murrow Fellowship at Columbia University, a windfall, he said, “which saved our bacon.” The family lived a year in New York. Hankering to be where the action was in the Cold War, he studied Russian for an expected Eastern bloc assignment, but instead he and Pegge followed their nose for news to the Caribbean and the region’s growing political strife. The family lived in Jamaica, a haven for the rich, the famous and the infamous.
From their hillside bungalow near San San as their island base, John fed radio and TV reports to NBC News and he and Pegge filed stories for Time-Life. They did pieces on exiled dictators Juan Peron and Zeldivar Batista, who despaired to the Hlavaceks, “They call me a murderer,” and John nabbed a world beat exclusive on the assassination of Rafael Trujilla. On a lighter note, the couple cultivated stories on famed composers Rodgers and Hammerstein, fading matinee idol Errol Flynn, evangelist Billy Graham and James Bond author Ian Fleming and they hobnobbed with the vacationing Kennedys and Johnsons and Princess Margaret.
With Castro’s ascent to power in Cuba, John went there as NBC’s primary correspondent, getting jailed and deported once for pressing too hard on a story. He interviewed all of Castro’s cabinet, but never “got to” the leader himself.
By 1964, Hlavacek’s network contract was up and his search for a news gig brought him and his family to Omaha’s then-NBC affiliate, KMTV, for whom he became a news analyst and roving correspondent. In a rare move for a local station, then news director Mark Gautier and general manager Owen Sadler let Hlavacek, with Pegge at his side, go far afield for news gathering sojourns, including trips to Vietnam, Africa and Europe. His Vietnam dispatches from the battlefront, which profiled ordinary GIs from the heartland, proved popular. He was a one-man crew, too — reporting, writing and filming. Between his field reports and analysis, he was part of a serious era in local TV news that’s long gone. “Well, it’s all fun and games now. Mark Gautier was a strict newsman. He didn’t believe in the happy talk that’s all the rage now,” said Hlavacek, who marvels at the instant news allowed by today’s digital-satellite technology and “the big production” TV makes of things.
Pegge’s pen was busy, too, as she wrote columns for the Sun Newspapers and Council Bluffs Nonpareil, among other publications, and hosted a radio show.
In the ‘70s, Hlavacek, a Democrat, scratched an itch to run for public office, losing a Congressional bid before winning a seat on the Omaha City Council. By showing his political colors, he found his journalism career closed. “Nobody would hire me,” he said. Still needing to earn a buck and looking to stay put in Omaha, where the family had put down roots, he started a travel agency, TV Travel, that capitalized on his and Pegge’s globetrotting expertise. After selling the business in 1983, he and Pegge remained in Omaha but continued hopscotching the world for pleasure, including several trips to China, where they visited old haunts and new sites.
Their grown children, all Westside High grads, are doing well. Two are doctors. One’s an airline pilot. Another’s in e-commerce. And still another’s an author.
Now, John’s days revolve around Pegge and memories of their high times. He takes her to an adult day care, after which they go to the Swanson branch library, where they pore over newsapapers. “We’re news junkies,” he said. “She’s at her best in the morning. She knows who I am and everything else. But at night she’s not quite sure whether she’s in Harrisburg or in Omaha. It’s rather discouraging…this terrible disease. I don’t know how many more years we’ve got.”
Rummaging through a lifetime of mementos at their home, everything he comes across evokes a story from their halcyon days as reporters. “I’ve got lots of stories,” he said.
- ‘I’m always looking for trouble’: Why Dom Joly heads for the planet’s more difficult destinations (independent.co.uk)
- On the road with China’s Foreign Ministry (theworld.org)
- Women at war: Profiling the female foreign correspondents in Iraq (blogs.journalism.co.uk)
- Foreign Correspondents Worry About Limited Access Following McChrystal Article, Gates Order (huffingtonpost.com)
- Can journalists ever be heroes? (independent.co.uk)
Three Old Wise Men of Journalism – Hlavacek, Michaels and Desfor – Recall Their Foreign Correspondent Careers and Reflect on the World Today
As a kid I watched John Hlavacek on a local network television affiliate’s newscasts and documentaries, and as a young man I was aware of him serving on the Omaha City Council, and operating his own travel agency. I vaguely knew that he had been a foreign correspondent. It was only a few years ago though that I met him for the first time and got to know more of his story. He and his late wife Pegge were both reporters in the Golden Age of American journalism. Their life stories of living and working around the world are as amazing as those of the historical events and figures they covered. In the last few years John has had published several books authored by himself and Pegge that recount their adventures. I have also posted the story I wrote about John and Pegge and their adventures, but the following piece is about John and two old reporter friends of his from back in the day. The three men hadn’t seen each other in decades until John arranged for their meeting in Omaha for a panel discussion. I covered the event and wrote this story for The Reader (www.thereader.com).
Three Old Wise Men of Journalism – Hlavacek, Michaels and Desfor - Recall Their Foreign Correspondent Careers and Reflect on the World Today
©by Leo Adam Biga
Originally appeared in The Reader (www.thereader.com)
They were three young lions of American journalism when they met far from home, a long time ago. John Hlavacek of Carleton College (Minn.) and Jim Michaels of Harvard were green United Press foreign correspondents based in post-World War II India. In wartime Hlavacek trucked medical supplies over the Burma Road for the International Red Cross. Michaels drove an American Field Service ambulance. Each was imprisoned there: Hlavacek for days; Michaels for months. New Yorker Max Desfor covered the war in the South Pacific as an Associated Press photographer.
The paths of these three men crossed in 1946, when their lives-careers intersected with India’s historic bid for independence from British colonial rule. Last spring, they came together for the first time in 60 years with the publication of a book, United Press Invades India, by Hlavacek, an Omaha resident who invited his colleagues to participate in public forums about their intrepid reporting days. The men shared stories and observations during two panel discussions in Omaha.
After being out of touch all that time Hlavacek began the process of reestablishing contact with his old colleagues while working on his memoir. Facts needed checking and where Hlavacek’s memory faltered, he relied on Desfor and Michaels to fill in the blanks. By the time the book was completed, Hlavacek suggested he and his comrades reunite. The men still correspond today.
The book that helped bring the old colleagues together was Hlavacek’s second volume of memoirs based on his overseas adventures in India and China, where he taught English in an American mission school in Fenyang as part of the Carleton in China exchange program. Hlavacek now has a third volume of memoirs out, Freelancing in Paradise, that recounts the years he and his wife Pegge, a fellow journalist he met and married in India, filed stories from the Caribbean for national media outlets. He’s also published two books authored by Pegge about her own far flung news career and the couple’s remarkable feat of raising five children while working in India, New York, Jamaica and Omaha.
For Hlavacek and Michaels, now in their late 80s, India began long, distinguished careers in journalism. As bureau chief in Bombay, Hlavacek built up UP’s presence there and under his aegis the news service proved a formidable rival to their bitter rival, the AP. He won what’s now called the Edward R. Murrow Fellowship for study at Columbia University, he covered the Caribbean and after moving with his family in the early 1960s to Omaha, where he was a television news correspondent/commentator, he filed a series of reports from Vietnam on area residents serving in the war.
Michaels got the scoop of a lifetime when he broke the story of Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination in 1948. He joined Forbes Magazine in 1954, was made editor in 1961, a post he held until 1999. He’s credited with turning Forbes into one of the world’s most read financial pubs. A VP today, he can be seen Sundays on Forbes On Fox.
Before India, Desfor already made memorable images: of the Enola Gay crew upon their return from the mission that dropped the atom bomb on Hiroshima; and of the Japanese surrender to the allies on the USS Missouri. Soon after his arrival in India in 1946, he snapped a famous picture of Gandhi and India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, in an unguarded moment of friendship. “You see the interchange, the compatibility, the simpatico. It’s just an enormous moment,” he said. The iconic pic was used as the basis for a popular Indian postage stamp.
Desfor won a Pulitzer Prize for news photos for his work in the Korean War. In all, he shot five wars, many conflicts and much civil strife. He later served as an AP photo executive/editor before retiring in 1979. That same year though he joined US News and World Report as director of photos. He made his 1984 retirement permanent, but he’s till snapping pics, only now with a digital camera. He’s 93.
Max Desfor posed in front of picture taken of himself during the Korean War
These young lions turned wise old men of journalism reunited for panel discussions in Omaha in 2006. They took to their role as pundits well. They spoke about the momentous events they reported on, the way the news biz has changed and how the India and China of today differ from the developing nations they knew then.
Hlavacek said the troika may be the only surviving American journalists to have met Gandhi. While his colleagues minimize Gandhi’s ultimate influence, Desfor said “he had a moral effect” of lasting import. Michaels said by the end Gandhi was “almost irrelevant” for opposing “industrialization or modernity. Had Gandhi lived, he said, “he would have been loved but nobody would have paid attention to his views.”
The ascetic led a huge movement yet was quite approachable. Unlike today’s restrictive climate, the press had unfettered access to major public figures then.
“A journalist’s access to events in those days was so much more intimate than it is today,” Michaels said. “Gandhi was a world figure, yet he had these prayer meetings when he was in Delhi that the public could come to. If you got there early you could sit right up in front and ask him questions. Or, as John (Hlavacek) did, you could go right up to him and ask for an interview. Today, you wouldn’t be able to get through the masses of hired guards, spin meisters, the whole lot.”
“Once, I wanted to interview the number two man in the cabinet of Independent India, Vallabhbhai Patel, a very important figure in Indian independence,” Michaels said. “So, I drove up in my little car to his place, knocked on the door, a servant answers and says, ‘What do you want?’ I say, ‘I’m from the United Press of America – I’d like to interview Vallabhbhai Patel’ He says, ‘Wait a minute,’ takes my card and five minutes later ushers me into the garden, where Patel and I had tea together and I had an interview. That kind of immediacy today simply does not exist.”
When Hlavacek wanted to interview Mohammed Ali Jinnah, a Muslim leader in the free India movement, he simply stopped by his flat. He had similar access to presidents (Nehru, Indira Gandhi), religious leaders (the Dalai Lama), royalty (Aga Kahn) and dictators (Juan Peron of Argentina, Zaldivar Batista of Cuba).
“There are many great stories I had the opportunity to cover,” Hlavacek said. “It was interesting. I had a lot of fun. I had a lot of worries from time to time, too. And you were always in competition. You were always trying to beat someone.”
“It was a wonderful era for being a correspondent,” said Desfor, who with his Speed Graphic made pictures of great personalities that “will live forever in history books. This is what gives me such great pleasure,” he said.
When Michaels arrived at the scene of the estate where Gandhi lay fatally shot, he was among the first there. The grounds were open and he could move freely about to ask questions and make observations. After sending off his first dispatches at a nearby cable office, he returned to find the area cordoned-off by police and a large group of reporters and peasants gathered outside the closed and guarded front gates. The reporters there earlier with him were now inside.
“I thought, Oh, my God, I’m going to get beat on this story. I better do something,” Michaels said. “So I went around the back. I knew the area pretty well. And I climbed through the hedges and, wow, staring me right in the face was an Indian constable. I desperately searched in my wallet for my old Geneva card, which I carried as an ambulance driver during the second world war. I flashed this card, which was very impressive, and he said, ‘OK, sahab.’ So I got in. I saw as they brought Gandhi’s body out on the balcony for the people to see. I saw a famous woman photographer (and correspondent) for Life Magazine, Margaret Bourke-White, thrown out physically when she refused to stop taking pictures.
“I saw all these great Indian leaders sitting around crying. I witnessed Nehru, the first prime minister of India, get up on the wall with tears streaming down his face declaring, ‘The father of our country is dead.’ I witnessed all these scenes.”
The phalanx of competing news groups was far smaller then, too, compared to the unwieldy mobs that descend on news events today.
“The independence of India was one of the great events of the century. It was huge news. Yet it was covered by less than 100 journalists,” Michaels said. “When Hong Kong became independent less than a decade ago, there were 8,000 journalists covering it and the ones that got there had to cover it by watching it on TV. Today, everything is staged. Access to events is tightly controlled.”
In the process, Michaels said, “something is lost between what you read and what happens. The whole nature of the profession has changed — I don’t think necessarily for the better. The news business today belongs more to presenters.” “You have to be an actor,” Hlavacek interjected.” “You have to be a performer,” Michaels agreed, “and what you get is filtered through these presenters.”
Another major difference between then and now is the rate at which news is disseminated. Filing stories from the field in Third World nations once meant getting the news out via mail or cable or teletype, all of which took time. Sometimes just getting from a news event to a dispatch office could take hours of travel. Now, stories can be filed from the most remote or dangerous regions, even war zones, almost instantaneously due to satellite phone lines and the Internet.
“The speed of communication is what’s really changed,” said Hlavacek, who adds “the 24-hour circuit” of news coverage puts hard copy newspapers in a tough spot. “You used to break a story in a special edition. It’s too late now.” Michaels believes the ever growing online info world “is killing newspapers.” To those who worry a point-and-click universe prevents analysis, Hlavacek said, “No, it doesn’t, but this is spot news and it never did. Analysis can come later.” He marvels at “the emergence of the Internet” and is encouraged that “there’s so much information out there. I don’t think you can control it. At least I don’t see that you can.”
The dynamic economies and rising technocracies of India and China have caught the men’s notice. Michaels often goes back to India, where he’s interviewed current prime minister Manmohan Singh. Michaels said India’s ascendancy “is one of the great unheralded revolutions of our time.” He said the planned socialist state under Nehru and his successors resulted in an India that “stagnated from the time of independence right through 1989.” Michaels, who calls Singh “a very impressive man,” credits him with engineering “a revolution from the top” that urged Indian leadership to abandon the old system in favor of “a free enterprise model.” The result, he said, is a “booming” economy. While India prospers, its caste system’s inequities still pervade the society, said Hlavacek, who’s also been back. The India-Pakistan divide, they agree, is one born of religious-political differences.
Last fall Hlavacek visited the mission school in Fenyang, China he taught at under Japanese occupation. On his 10-day China trip he was most impressed by all “the change,” he said. “That’s the difference.” He said while China is still “ostensibly a Communist country, they’re the greatest capitalists in the world.” “They call themselves Communists,” said Michaels, who’s been there, “but everybody winks and nobody really believes that.” The journalists believe China and India will grow as trading partners with each other and with the U.S. as their economies continue to grow. As the world changes at an ever faster rate, Hlavacek said journalism remains “a higher calling.”
For three old men, a lifetime of curiosity has not waned. The world is still their oyster. The news, their metier.
- Journalism veteran Daniel Schorr dies at 93 (cbc.ca)
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- Jesuit Photojournalist Don Doll of Creighton University Documents the Global Human Condition One Person, One Image at a Time (leoadambiga.wordpress.com)
- Omaha Address by Cuban Archbishop Jaime Ortega Sounds Hopeful Message that Repression in Cuba is Lifting (leoadambiga.wordpress.com)
- Returning To Society: New community collaboration, research and federal funding fight to hold the costs of criminal recidivism down (leoadambiga.wordpress.com)
Author-journalist-blogger Leo Adam Biga resides in his hometown of Omaha, Nebraska. He writes newspaper-magazine stories about people, their passions, and their magnificent obsessions. He's the author of the books "Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film – A Reporter's Perspective 1998-2012," a compilation of his journalism about the acclaimed filmmaker, and "Open Wide" a biograpy of Mark Manhart. Biga co-edited "Memories of the Jewish Midwest: Mom and Pop Grocery Stores." His popular blog, leoadambiga.wordpress.com, is an online gallery of his work.
- Omaha's #1 catfish/spaghetti dinner tomorrow Church of the Resurrection 3004 Belvedere Blvd. Good eats-Low prices-Supports kids 402-455-7015 4 weeks ago
- Brad Ashford Reflects on Recent Omaha Mayoral Primary Loss and the Politics He Espouses nblo.gs/KrZ7t 4 weeks ago
- The Omaha Star Celebrates 75 Years of Black Woman Legacy nblo.gs/Kbvhb 1 month ago
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- Click Westin, Back in the Screenwriting Game Again at Age 83
- Flanagan-Monsky Example Of Social Justice and Interfaith Harmony Still Shows the Way 60 Years Later
- Brandeis Story: Great Plains Family-Owned Department Store Empire
- From the Archives: Monika Kelly Recalls her Late Father, the Beloved Clown and Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus Legend, Emmett Kelly Sr.
- What Happens to a Dream Deferred? John Beasley Theater Revisits Lorraine Hansberry's 'A Raisin in the Sun'
- Norman Krivosha's Life in Law
- Native American Survival Strategies Shared Through Theater and Testimony
- Having Survived War in Sudan, Refugee Akoy Agau Discovered Hoops in America and the Major College Recruit is Now Poised to Lead Omaha Central to a Third Straight State Title
- One Day at a Time, A Recovering Alcoholic's Story
- Altman on Altman: A Look at the Late American Auteur Robert Altman Through the Eyes of His Grandson, Indie Omaha Filmmaker Dana Altman, and Other Cinephiles
- Wright On, Adam Wright Has it All Figured Out Both On and Off the Football Field
- From the Archives: Peony Park Not Just an Amusement Playground, But a Multi-Use Events Facility
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