Running out of breath... - School of Journalism
July 29, 2009
The DoubleTree @ 303 W. 15th Street, Austin, TX. 78701
Volume I, Issue 1
Running out of breath...
Toby Drake fights off death to keep his voice alive
By Virginia S. Gilstrap
Two years ago veteran English teacher Toby Drake could not have
walked the mile after sightseeing in downtown Austin back to the Doubletree Hotel and his journalism colleagues in the Reynolds Institute.
Drake was not expected to live much longer. He had a rare form
of vasculitis known as Abernathy Syndrome, which prevented the full
oxygenation of his blood. His tissues were dying, starting with his liver.
The next major organ affected would be his brain.
Drake’s wife, Dawn, asked him to write letters to their three young
boys for when they grew up.
Though faced with failing health, a bleak prognosis and a constant
need for an oxygen line, Toby refused to write the letters, he refused to
stop teaching and he refused to stop living. Toby refused to die.
“I got out of bed every day,” Toby said in his East Texas drawl. “I put
on my clothes and did what needed to be done. I had to. I had a family
to fight for.”
Toby hadn’t always been so stubborn. When he was in college he
wanted to major in broadcast journalism, but he changed his mind because of his dad.
“I wanted to be the next Walter Cronkite,” Drake said. His adviser at
Stephen F. Austin State University said it would take an extra year to
“My daddy was firm,” Toby said. “I was going to be done in four years. So I went with
Toby said he was “suckered into English” his first year of teaching and stayed
with it for the next two decades at various school districts. Along the way he
married Dawn, the girl he knew was “the
one” on their first date at a high school
football game. Together Dawn and Toby
raised three sons: Kevin, 22, Quinn, 16, and
“We’ve been through it all together,” Toby said.
“You name it: bankruptcy, the death of a child and
The principal and faculty at the Terrell, Texas high
school, where Toby has worked the last four years,
supported him through his illness.
“That’s just how they are,” Toby said.
“If I could make it to school and in
to class, then we all got through
the day together. I wasn’t
on Pg. 4
Esther’s Follies lampoons politics, economy
By Alex Gonzalez
The colorful exterior of Esther’s Follies’ theater belies
the off-color humor on display inside.
No audience member is free from political incorrectness as the cast of Esther’s Follies pokes fun at topics that
include politics, race, news, music, age, religion, sexism,
sexuality, immigration and the economy.
Constant costume and set changes for 25 skits and a
magical show create a fast-paced 90-minute show. The
cast introduces new skits monthly.
“I couldn’t believe it the first time I saw the show. I
had to bring my husband to prove it. He is a conservative,
church-going Baptist from a small town,” Kristina Kline
of Houston, Texas said.
The award-winning show is usually sold out. Audience
members fear being selected for one of the numerous
“I think it’s great. I’ve been here before. I brought my
friends from out of town to see it,” Leslie Cook of Austin,
Esther’s Follies began as a by-product of a pool parlor, called Esther’s Pool, on East Sixth Street April Fool’s
Day, 1977. Conceived as a combination topical vaudeville/satirical musical comedy revue, Esther’s Follies has
grown to become the state’s premier comedy complex,
garnering national praise and a loyal following.
“Esther’s Follies never gets old. I have been to see
the show about eight times. My favorite performers are
Espy Randolph, who does a ripping Whitney Houston. I
also love Shannon Sedwick. Her Martha Stewart sketch
sleighs me so much that I used the idea for my office entertainment -- and I killed. If you have not seen this show
yet, grab your closest 50 friends and go. It’s the greatest,”
Mike Lawson of Austin, Texas said.
The 11-member cast is as diverse as the show. Ray Anderson, Austin’s nationally renowned magician has been
caught up in the tornado that is Esther’s Follies for over
fifteen years. Deemed “best spellbinder” by the Austin Chronicle, Ray perplexes both audience members
and curious 6th Street revelers peering through Esther’s
trademark windows. Whether as himself or his “Amazing Frank” alter-ego, Ray uniquely combines magic and
comedy in a way you probably have never seen before.
“…the spunky cast of beloved satirical musical revue
proves chutzpah is alive and well Thursday through Saturday on Sixth Street,” The Austin American-Statesman.
The cast, some of whom have been with the show for
as many as 15 years, performs five shows a week yearround at the venue to approximately 70,000 customers
“They’re great. Austin has great audiences,” said Cast
Member Shannon Sedwick said.
The Austinsible July 31, 2009
Digging Deeper Produces Great Newspapers
By Brenda Schultz
Hard work, accuracy, research
and unique angles produce great
Jeanne Acton presented today
at the ASNE 2009 Seminar. She
taught us how to produce a better
newspaper. Jeanne is UIL Assistant Academic Director Journalism at The University of Texas at
Austin and director of the Interscholastic League Press Conference.
Writing great stories is not easy.
What good will come from the
stories chosen for the newspaper?
“It isn’t just black and white
there is a lot of gray,” she said.
“Make sure the story pertains to
the age of the audience”.
The stories need to be current
and interesting to the students.
The stories should start with a
good descriptive lead that grabs
the audience and tells the whole
“Doing this you can make an
average story great,” Jeanne said.
Getting students to do this was
one of the biggest concerns. Stories have to be about what is current. The newspaper needs to
empower the kids by making the
newspaper their own, says Acton
“It is okay to have silly things in
the newspaper,” Acton said.
The newspaper articles need to
start with most important and end
with the least important. Good
leads grab the reader and to keep
the reader, the story needs to tell
the whole story. An average story
can be made great. Building selfesteem in the students will produce better stories.
“If you trust your students, send
them out to get their stories,” said
Mojave High School advisor,
Acton agreed that advisors have
to prepare the students to talk to
counselors and administrators.
Direct quotes and transitions are
vital for the story.
The stories need
to entertain, inform and protect. Shock and
gossip are not
the real story. Each story should
be accurate and fair. Students
should seek the truth and report it
but remember to minimize harm.
They should act independently
but be accountable.
“My students do not know the
difference between and fact and
an opinion,” said South San Antonio High School advisor, John
John wanted to know how he
could get his students to correct
this problem. Acton responded
that an advisor should make sure
the students agree on what the
newspaper’s role, the goals and
who is the audience. Is it harmful? Will one of the stories diminish the newspaper?
Charles Henderson High School
advisor, Jessica Booth believed that Ac-
ton presented feasible ideas that
could be easily integrated into my
journalism program. Following
these rules and suggestions from
Acton, will produce a great newspaper.
Dr. Cindy Royal: Pioneer in a Techno World
By Sheryl Cole
Trailblazer. Explorer. Pathfinder.
Throughout history there have always been those who led the charge
into the shadowy future. Such historical figures as Marco Polo, Sir
Walter Raleigh, Sacajawea, Amelia
Earhart, and Yuri Gagarin instigated
change for entire eras. For many of
the 34 students attending the ASNE
High School Journalism Institute at
the University of Texas, Dr. Cindy
Royal is their Marco Polo, their guide
into the digital frontier.
Royal emphasizes the role of social
media in the world of journalism and
education. “It’s important for students to understand that the future
of media is two-way conversations
and community engagement,” she
said. Not everyone understands her
point of view. For many, the world
of social networking seems to be the
antithesis of journalism. In a July 27,
2009, Chronicle of Higher Education
article, “The Trouble with Twitter,”
Melissa Hart said, “On Twitter, the
notes become the story, devoid of
even five minutes of reflection on the
writer’s way to the computer.”
Dr. Dustin Harp, assistant professor
at the University of Texas School of
Journalism sees the issue in a different light. She said that Royal is in the
forefront in terms of a university professor teaching journalism by linking communication, technology, and
social networking. In Royal’s cyber
world “journalism is democratized,”
Harp said. “What difference does
Twitter make? In Iran people on the
ground became journalists.“ According to Harp, Royal also emphasizes
the role of journalists helping journalists through social networking. For
example, the connection between
journalism and social networking occurs when a journalist tweets a journalist friend asking for tips to assist
in an upcoming assignment to Cairo.
“These are ways people are spreading the news,” Harp said.
University of Texas graduate assistant Jaime Loke explained how Royal links journalism, social networking
and education. Loke said, “[Royal] is
a pioneer in using social networking
sites which are assumed to be cyber
playgrounds for adolescents. And
she says, ‘Hey teachers! Let’s use My
Space, let’s use Twitter to see how we
can use it in the classroom.’” Royal
is showing journalists and educators
how such media as Twitter, Flickr,
Blogspot, and Facebook can be used
to report news, research, educate, and
affect events as they occur.
See ROYAL on Pg. 3
Royal assists ASNE participant Karen Cusolito
Page 3 The Austinsible July 31, 2009
Acton, Elbom lead morning session; prior review dominates discussion
By Seth Johnson
When the student newspaper the Trojan Myths
of Henderson High School in Troy, AL, ran a
photo of about 40 graduating seniors turning their
rears to the camera under the headline “Kiss our
CLASS goodbye,” faculty advisor Jessica Booth
didn’t think it was a big deal. A closer inspection
of the dark, grainy photo, however, reveals that
one student had dropped his pants a few inches
to reveal the top of his bare behind. Neither the
superintendent nor the principal was amused.
As a consequence for printing the photo, starting next school year Booth will have to submit
issues of the newspaper to the principal for prior
review before it can be sent for publication.
Booth shared this story Wednesday morning
with 33 other high school journalism teachers
from all over the country as they attend a twoweek conference at the University of Texas in
Though prior review was not a major point
on the agenda for the session being run by UT
journalism professor Jeanne Acton and newspaper advisor for Lyndon B. Johnson High School
(in Austin) Janet Elbom, it dominated much of
When Acton asked the teachers how many
of them had a policy of prior review at their
schools, about half raised their hands.
Most journalists oppose prior review because
the practice is viewed as a violation of First
Amendment rights. Some advisors, however,
like having their students’ work reviewed by an
administrator prior to publication as a safety net
to avoid professional or legal trouble later. Some
even offer their school newspaper up for prior
ROYAL, continued from pg. 2
“The future of media has to do with
engagement and interactivity,” Royal
said. The significance for journalism
teachers is that “like media, education
is quickly becoming more of a conversation rather than a lecture. There
are social media tools that can help
enhance that conversation, most are
free and easy to use.”
During her three sessions with
the ASNE High School Journalism
Institute students, Royal gave realtime demonstrations of a smattering
of media tools available to teachers.
Speaking quickly, she punctuated her
words with expansive gestures and
smiles while simultaneously navigating the web. Want to put your newspaper on the web? Go to the ASNE
website or www.blogger.com. Want
to post a slideshow of the senior talent show? Go to www.slideshow.net.
Want to find information about social
media? Explore www.cindyroyal.
com and follow any one of the many
available links. Her blog www.cin-
review when it is not mandated by the school’s
“There are times when I feel more comfortable
going to press after an administrator has looked
over the paper,” said Nadima Zegar, newspaper advisor at Bloom High School in Chicago
Heights, IL, where prior review is not requested
by the administration. “There have been times
when information was corrected and administrators have been grateful to know when a controversial issue was being covered ahead of time.”
The best way advisors can avoid prior review,
censorship, or discipline of other kinds is to
build a strong journalism program that will protect itself. Providing specific advice on how to
do so was the focus of Acton and Elbom’s presentations.
The first step recommended by Acton was for
teachers to stock their classes with quality students.
“Right off the bat tell counselors ‘[my jour-
dytech.wordpress.com is rich with
information for educators, journalists,
Royal surfs the leading edge of
technology as it breaks. Dr. George
Sylvie, University of Texas associate
professor of Journalism and director
of UT’s ASNE Institute, likens Royal
to people who collect baseball cards
and old silverware. “Cindy collects
technology,” Sylvie said. “In my experience, Cindy has always known
before anyone else all those buzz
words and is playing with some new
gadget. “ But Royal goes beyond
simply being an infomercial for social media. Harp said she doesn’t
know any one professor who spends
as much time as Royal to keep up. In
addition, she is dedicated to her students, expansive and generous with
time and information. “The amount
she gives to her students goes above,”
said Harp. “Want help? She’s going
to take the time to show you.” In person, the delivery of Royal’s informa-
nalism class] is not a
dumping ground for
students’,” she said.
Acton also suggested teachers recruit
good writers from
courses based on recommendations from
other teachers and
counselors. She em-Nadima Zegar
that using current staff members to recruit other
students was even more effective.
Elbom said her opening message to students
was that her expectations for them were very
high and that their work as journalists was a serious responsibility. She went on to share with
teachers the documents she gives to her students
at the beginning of the year outlining this. These
included a course description, commitment contract, and discipline management plan – all of
which had to be signed by both the students and
Acton pointed out that while sending a firm
message to students was necessary, perhaps the
most important thing to do was to “create a fun
environment” within acceptable limits.
“You’ll be amazed what kids will do for you
if they like you,” she said. “Figuring out how to
connect with them is an art.”
Acton went on to share a 20-minute Power
Point presentation on how to effectively work
with and build positive relationships with administrators – a political step in protecting the
journalism program from unnecessary censorship or discipline.
tion seems hyper-speed. “If you talk
too slow [students] will get bored,”
Royal said. “They’re used to quick,
Royal’s journey from childhood to
her present position was not a slamdunk. At age 10 her family moved
from Long Island, New York, to a
small town in North Carolina. “That
contrast defines me more than anything,” she said. When she traveled
to New York she was “that girl from
the South.” In the Carolinas kids
called her “the girl from New York.”
In high school she was always “a
little bit of being the outsider.” Being
the first one in her family to go to college forced her to be innovative. “I
just had not had a lot of experiences
that helped prepare me for college,”
said Royal. “The town we moved
to in North Carolina was very small,
and I didn’t get exposed to much culture there. Not having anyone in my
family that went to college, it was an
unknown entity to me, which was a
“I feel more
going to press
after an administrator has looked
over the paper.”
little scary, but ultimately exciting
and a valuable experience for me.”
Royal graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration and received a
Master of Business Administration
from the University of Richmond.
Before she found her niche, she
worked for both NCR Corporation
and Compaq. Two separate events
created the catalyst leading to Royal’s
present work. One day while working for Compaq, she woke up and
asked, “Why am I doing this job?”
Then she went to her sister’s college
graduation and saw people receiving
PHD’s in Journalism. She remembered thinking, “Ahh. Maybe I could
do that.” The timing was excellent
because the internet was really taking off. “It was a good idea, in retrospect,” Royal says. “I never made
good decisions before.”
By Dan Folts
News must be new. Perhaps this is not the most revelatory statement in the history of editorials, but it needed
to be said. Houston Chronicle Editor Jeff Cohen’s presentation Monday morning seemed to reinforce this
idea, but I was somewhat unnerved by the concept of
“master narratives,” or reoccurring themes, that often
appear in the Houston Chronicle, ones that readers continue to read, ones that sell papers, no matter how many
times they are run. They include:
• Environmental issues
• Transportation/urban sprawl
• Health/Medical Center
• Houston life and what to do
• Houston sports
Of course this does not mean that his newspaper has
begun cannibalizing itself and recycling content. Each
time one of the “master narratives” reappears in print,
Cohen’s staff is sure to come at it from another angle
or offer up the content as follow-up to a previous story.
But the idea of there being “master narratives” at a
newspaper was a comment that resonated with me in a
way that can only be described as a casual atom bomb,
though it was perhaps common knowledge to editors
of his expertise. It made me wonder, if the Houston
Chronicle has general “reoccurring themes” in a large
city, then there must be such narratives in school districts. My rural western New York school district, for
example, could write year round about farming, especially about the dynamic between agribusiness and the
Students have to start somewhere, and perhaps these
master narratives are the centers of great wheels. It certainly gives a writer, an editor, and an advisor, something to fall back on, but it may lead to the type of nonfiction “storytelling” that postmodernists so detest-- a
story that, in one way or another, has been told before.
Even if these master narratives continue to sell papers
and hold audiences’ interest, there should be a greater element of mystery in reporting than simply trying to find
a new angle on an old story. The process of reporting in
journalism classes should be a process of discovery in
which a student begins knowing very little about something and ends up “getting the scoop.” This experience
of surprise will create interesting writing that captivates
the audience and, in turn, gives them the experience of
surprise which will keep readers coming back.
TOBY continued from Pg. 1
the only one. When a teacher gets really sick at
my school the principal says ‘We’ve got a family
member’ (that needs help).”
Fellow English teacher Nancy Schaap said Toby
could hardly breath by the end of the day.
“He seemed very tired all the time,” Schaap said. “I
don’t know how he did it.”
Toby wanted his oxygen intake to be as inconspicuous as possible in class, so he got online and found
eyeglass frames that thread the oxygen line along the
“The candela (oxygen face mask) was too limiting,” Toby said. The mask took all facial expression away from the eyes down. The eye-glass line
helped him communicate with students.
At home Toby continued doing his job as well.
Even though Dawn and the boys volunteered to
take on more chores, Toby refused to let go of his
“He mowed the yard with an oxygen tank on
his back,” Dawn said. “It was the hardest thing for
me to watch. He never gave into it, even when it
was really bad.
“Toby never accepted it as his future,” Dawn
said. “He kept looking for ways to get better. He
refused to admit the possibility of dying.”
With his health deteriorating toward the inevitable,
Toby’s doctor at Baylor Hospital held a conference
call with other specialists across the country. The hospital surgeon had refused to do the usual operation
because it had a 95 percent mortality rate. Dawn said
Toby’s liver doctor, Jaqueline O’Leary, kept pushing
for new ideas. During the conference call the doctors discussed the idea of placing a stint in the vein
near Toby’s liver, similar to stints used to open heart
valves. It had never been done before, but they decided to give it a try.
“The doctors did not know if they could do it,”
Toby said. “Or if it would work.”
“We knew when they went in that last time,”
Dawn said, “that if it didn’t work, things would go
downhill from there.”
He had the surgery July 9, 2007.
“They said it would take six months to a year
before I would see any results,” Toby said. “But
it made all the difference. By October I was off
Now he carries two extra medical cards in his wallet: one showing his surgeon’s name and the other
showing the stint manufacturer. He goes to a different doctor every six months for a follow-up and then
they e-mail each other on his progress.
While his doctors prepare a paper for their peers,
Toby works on student publications since last year
when his principal asked him to take over the
newspaper class. Schaap said before Toby advised
the class, students showed little interest in the paper. She said he graciously accepted the challenge
and everyone was amazed at his first paper. Toby
finally got to use his journalism major.
“You couldn’t turn around without Drake being there with his camera,” Schaap said. She said
students bought the newly improved Tiger Tracks
“It had good information,” Schaap said. “It was
July 31, 2009
well written and had good pictures.”
Toby said the most challenging moment occurred when a student on his staff was shot and
killed during an armed robbery. He said the student was great at school, but outside the student’s
behavior tended to be wild.
Toby and his staff tried to write the story, but
they couldn’t make themselves do it. So they ran
a photo collage of their friend next to a feature on
Rachel’s Challenge. (Rachel Scott was the first
victim at Columbine, and her family shares the
positive lessons of Rachel’s life at schools around
Toby also found it a challenge “to rebuild a program that crashed – to get it up and going.”
Again he turned to the Internet to help him in
class. He found the High School Journalism site
(hsj.org) and the Reynolds HSJ Institute online.
Each summer the institute sends journalism teachers to two-week courses at universities around the
country. Institute Director Diana Mitsu Klos said
this year there were 500 applicants, and 175 teachers were chosen.
“There’s a similar core curriculum at all the institutes
around the country,” Klos said. “But each group has
its own unique sense or atmosphere. (The Austin
group) is a collegial, highly professional but compassionate group, trying to bring out the best in students
and find the deeper meaning in stories.” Klos said
there’s a noticeable a sense of mission among the
Toby’s mission is no longer to be the next
Cronkite, but to get his school’s paper online. “I
want to get the kids’ skills up enough that if we do
an online program it will look good,” Toby said.
Klos also recommended that journalists who
visit Austin go by the LBJ Museum and Library
to view the Woodward and Bernstein notes.
So, Toby and several colleagues did just that on
the weekend break from the 10-hour weekday
classes, walking in the 100-degree heat across the
University of Texas campus. He smiled through
every drop of sweat.
“I’ve enjoyed the camaraderie of the people,”
Toby said. “I learned so much. Just wow.”
the Austinsible Staff
The Austensible is a one-time news publication produced by high school journalism teachers attending the ASNE Institute at the University
of Texas in Austin. The opinions expressed are
not necessarily those shared by all staff members or administrators of ASNE or UT.
Your opinions, criticisms, and feedback is
unimportant to us. Please do not attempt to
contact us under any circumstances.