Subscribe via RSS Feed

Polk Awards Committee Member and LIU Alumnus To Showcase New Book

By: Wandera Hussein

 Brooklyn native, and former Seawanhaka reporter Edward Hershey, will make a return visit to campus to share stories from his new book The ‘Score Keeper’ On April 6. Beginning as a sportswriter at the age of 14, Hershey attended LIU Brooklyn in the early 1960s and developed a passion for newswriting through Seawanhaka Press. He went on to work for news organizations like Newsday and reported on stories like the ‘Son of Sam’ case. Seawanhaka interviewed Hershey about his upcoming book,

 What did you want to be growing up?

You know, it’s funny. I really wanted to be a sportscaster, but even at a young age, I understood there weren’t that many of those jobs. So I settled on sportswriter, I really wanted to be a sportswriter from the beginning. From the time that I was 14 years old, I actually acted on it. What I tell people is, I was the journalistic equivalent of a gym-rat.

Is that what made you want to become a journalist?

 Yes. I never dreamt in my senior year that I would be a general assignment reporter. At LIU was the first time I did it, because if you worked for Seawanhaka, you had the chance to cover the news, not just sports. I managed to get that chance right off the bat, I mentioned in the book. The very first journalism story I ever covered was: the LIU president had barred a number of outside speakers that the student government had invited, including Malcolm X. And my very first story was about how the university refused to allow the students to invite several of these speakers, including Malcolm X. Within a few weeks, they turned it around and Malcolm X did come to speak at LIU. I remember it very well.

Can you tell me a bit about your relationship and experiences with Seawanhaka?

I wrote a whole chapter about it in the book. What I said, and I don’t want to denigrate classroom learning, but I really learned more about newspapering on Seawanhaka than I did anywhere else. I don’t know how it is now, but then, it was almost like the seniors taught the juniors, taught the sophomores and so on. It was very active and we published weekly. It was almost from the day I got there, I was a Seawanhaka reporter first, and a student second, and that served me very, very well. I really learned a great deal and stumbled a few times, I have a story in the book about how the provost called me into his office and read me the Riot act. But we prided ourselves on having the ability to report to the student body, and we took some lumps if we didn’t do it right. On the one hand, any school newspaper is a laboratory, it’s understood that you’re going to make a few mistakes along the way. After all, you’re in college. But it was a tremendous experience for me, and it affirmed for me that I really wanted to be a journalist.

What was it like transitioning from covering sports into news?

I have an anecdote in the book about the very first story I ever covered; it’s kind of funny. If you go to the book you’ll see a chapter called ‘The Real World.’ In the very first story I covered, I thought it was the most important story ever. I came into the desk at the newsroom at Newsday where I was working, and the guy said, “Give me six ‘graphs and make it sing.” And I looked at him like he was crazy because I thought I had a fantastic story. So it was an adjustment, I had to learn how to write tighter.

Tell me about being on the George Polk Awards Committee

When I graduated from LIU, I was the George Polk Outstanding Student, based on the work I had done at Seawanhaka, and I was very honored. I thought to myself at the time, because I knew I wanted to be a newspaper reporter, “Boy I’d love to win Polk Award for reporting.” I won other awards; I don’t know how close I came. But one day the phone rang, it was a wonderful professor named Bob Spector who had been the head of the English department, he was then the head of the humanities division, he’s passed on now, but he was a very bright guy. He was an LIU graduate and loved LIU. He invited me to join. They were reforming the Polk committee, the Polk Award had not been given out for a couple of years, there had been some issues on campus and they stopped it for two years. But he asked me to join the committee, and I thought to myself at the time, “Well now I know I’ll never win a Polk Award,” because obviously, you can’t vote yourself one. I thought it was such a great honor and awfully good role to be able to encourage great reporting because that’s what they do. Even more now than ever, we know that newspapers are for a variety of reasons are related to changes and to the advent of the Internet; we know that newspapers are not what they once were. But even now, when we give an award to a great story, it really encourages the reporter, but his or her newspaper to continue to do those kinds of stories. It recognizes and acknowledges great reporting, and it encourages great journalism. By citing 12 or 13 stories a year that are great stories, what we’re really doing is telling those news organizations, whether they’re print, broadcast, or the web, we’re saying, “This matters, this counts.” And by honoring you, we’re encouraging you to do more of this. That’s been the single most gratifying part for me in doing this work for all these years. I’ve been part of an effort to try to encourage investigative reporting and really good journalism. When we deliberate the committee, we start off with 500 stories. Getting to the top 20 or 25 is not so hard; you can eliminate stuff that for one reason or another is not an award winner. Boy, getting from 20 to 12 is hell because they’re all good.

Could you give a bit of reflection on your time at LIU as a student?

Back when I was there in the ’60s, and I’m not sure a lot has changed over the years, people talked about LIU as a bootstrap campus. It’s not Harvard, and it’s not even NYU; it’s a place where people come to, because whether it’s their economic circumstances, or maybe they didn’t have the best high school record, or maybe they started off somewhere else and transferred in; it’s a place that gives you a chance to prove yourself. I found that out at Seawanhaka and I found that in the student body, it’s a place that really allows you to succeed if you’re willing. With what they called open enrollment when pretty much everyone could go to at least a community college, everyone thought LIU would go away. Because after all, people could spend less money going elsewhere, but there’s something about this place, that’s in downtown Brooklyn, New York, USA, that just has a feel to it, and that makes it something very special. I come back each year to judge the Polks, and there is the sense that I have that in some respects is not all that different than from when I was at school a half-century ago, crazy to even say it. There’s an attitude that says you can come in there, put in the effort, and you’ll come away with something. I did, and I’m proud of it.

Category: News