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Today's word on journalism

March 17, 2009

Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 1863-2009

"Can Seattle's oldest newspaper be successfully transformed into a child of the information age? The Northwest is a land of big dreams. With the demise of the Soviet Union, one quipster noted that Puget Sound is now home to three empires still bent on global dominion: Microsoft, Amazon.com and Starbuck's. If the stars align properly and with a quality product, Seattle will show the way to a new model for journalism of the written word."

--Joel Connelly, columnist, in today's final print edition of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer

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A great debate gives you power -- and an adrenaline rush along the way

By Shannon K. Johnson

February 17, 2008 | At 4:30 a.m. the phone rings and Mike in clipped voice informs me that he is leaving at that moment and I had better head out to the parking lot between our apartments. Flinging the covers off I leap into the clothes I had laid out the night before.

If you’ve ever tried to carry a bulky blanket and pillow with both arms, walk with a back pack on and dragging a roll away suitcase, then you know you now have the maneuverability of a mom holding hands with two angry toddlers who are very determined to walk opposite directions.

Doorframes are a major problem. I am not the most coordinated person without the bulky luggage I am carrying, so with the mobility of a shopping cart with two locked wheels I quietly try to lumber out the door. By quietly I mean thudding some part of myself (or what I am carrying) against the wall, the door or reasonably solid air.

Essentially my roommates hate me. However it is all worth it after I stuff my suitcases into the car, bus, hotel room, and back to the bus. It’s amazing how suitcases are so not mobile.

Mike and I pull up to Dr. Tom’s office, and we emerge bleary eyed and heavy laden. The Utah State debate team has arrived. We merge on the bus sarcastic and tired, and soon settle into substantially less comfortable positions then the ones we left behind in bed. We try to sleep.

Thirteen hours on a small university bus with 11 other people and practicing for literally hours on end is a sacrifice that we are willing to make. But this is the final tournament, and after seven years of debate it seems that I have the urge to question my sanity for participating in this “sport” and I wonder what I am taking.

So as I collect the on behalf of the team and look over the overstuffed auditorium I wonder what I really took away from the sport.

First, debate makes you a big packer -- you need things like a change of shoes to run around campus in when you get the first set of blisters from your dress shoes. Blankets, pillows, etc. are all necessities when you’re trapped on a drafty bus where the windows don’t close on. Those who are not prepared are cold. So when I am setting out on a weekend get-away and my boyfriend whines about my over packing I have a ready response: “Honey, it is not my fault. Debate made me do it.”

I am sure he will be very understanding while nursing the back injuries incurred from hefting my luggage into the car.

But debate doesn’t just teach you to carry all your possession around in a suitcase, it also teaches you how to think on your feet.

Even after a night sharing a bed with a teammate, morning dawns early with the smell of bad coffee wafting. College students prepare to give elaborate speeches in the backdrop of ordinary classrooms.

Fifteen minutes before the round sides are assigned and a topic is announced, with so short a time to prepare a case, I feel a huge adrenaline rush. Unlike most other sports with that level of adrenaline the only risk here is a blister from dress shoes, a paper cut, or some inky fingers.

Unless you count the torn ligaments in my ankle after I fell down the stairs at a tournament my sophomore year, but I blame clumsiness not debate.

Most consider debate an organized argument when in reality it is the opposite -- competitors often part amicably I have even become friends with my opponents.

But debate has a dark side. You can’t question everything that the opposing team says without that bleeding into other arenas.

It may not seem like a concern, but when your first boyfriend says: “I love you,” the instinct of asking why is suddenly dangerous. Many flings have been ended early because the debater asks too many questions about the real world impacts of a relationship.

Being a critical thinker who voices their questions quickly (all as result of training) is a good way to get into arguments that you never meant to get involved with in the first place.

Now I teach a small class of fifth-graders debate theory. They are starting four years earlier then I was when I went to my first tournament. They all take careful notes on the debate terms. Already they are becoming critical thinkers in the few weeks since I first started coaching.

They ask better questions, take better notes, and are already more confident in front of their peers. But soon they will start winning fights with their parents, I hope they will use the power of debate for good rather than evil.


MS
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