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Omdahl: Ben Franklin in North Dakota

By Staff | Sep 9, 2016

Ben Franklin, whose physiognamy adorns the Pulitzer medal, will be in North Dakota September 24 to appear at the 100th Anniversary Celebration of Pulitzer prizes in journalism and history.

Sponsored by the North Dakota Humanities Council, the appearance will take place at the Legacy High School in Bismarck.

The Pulitzer prizes were created by Joseph Pulitzer, a newspaper tycoon who owned the New York World and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. When I was in journalism school, we spoke with awe about the Post-Dispatch.

Three North Dakota newspapers have been winners of Pulitzer prizes.

The Bismarck Tribune edged out the San Francisco News in 1938 for its series on the droughts of the 1930s, “Self-Help in the Dust-Bowl.”

The Fargo Forum won the award in 1958 for distinguished local reporting on the tornado that struck the Golden Ridge section of town, destroying 100 blocks, 319 homes, 15 businesses and killing 10 people.

The Grand Forks Herald won the prize in 1998 for its brilliant coverage of the flood of the Century, led by Editor Mike Jacobs, who produced the daily newspaper out of a grade school in Manvel without skipping a beat. Without Jacobs, there would have been no Pulitzer Prize.

Beside the appearance of Ben Franklin, the 100th Anniversary Celebration will include a day full of presentations by distinguished authors of Pulitzer-quality writings.

At 9:45 AM, Editor and Publisher Mike Jacobs will address “The Importance of News Literacy,” a timely topic considering the importance of discernment in ferreting through the myriad of undisciplined news and propaganda sources used in this presidential campaign.

At 10 AM, Pulitzer Finalist Eric Schlosser will address the nuclear weapons crisis and the risks of human error, a chilling analysis of past failures in managing the nuclear buildup.

At 11:10AM, Elizabeth Fenn, Pulitzer winner in history, will present the keynote address, discussing the history of the Mandan Indians after having travelled throughout western North Dakota doing on-the-ground research.

After noon lunch, Ben Franklin will appear at 1 p.m. If he turns out to be a no-show, the programmers have GregRobin Smith, nationally-acclaimed Chautauqua impersonator, standing by. Rumor has it that Smith is actually the better performer of the two.

At 2 PM., Pulitzer Winner Sonia Nazario will be interviewed about her reporting on the trials of immigrant children in their travels from Latin American countries. Her presentation will put faces on the immigration issue that has been kicked around Washington and the political campaigns for 20 years.

At 3:10 PM., Pulitzer Winner Jacqueline Jones will be interviewed by Mark Trahant, the Charles Johnson Chair UND Professor of Journalism, about her book, “The Myth of Race from the Colonial Era to Obama’s America,” another pertinent topic for a time of racial tension.

At 4:20 PM, Pulitzer Winner Seymour Hersh will discuss the role of the press in challenging corruption and holding accountable those who exploit power. Hersh was the international reporter who uncovered the My Lai Massacre by American troops in Viet Nam.

Hersh will be followed with an interview with Pulitzer Winner Mike Jacobs.

With this distinguished cast of Pulitzer-caliber authors and presenters addressing hot-button topics of the day, the 100th Anniversary Celebration offers a rare opportunity for North Dakotans to share in a timely dialogue with leading scholars.

Registration will be accepted right up to September 24. Considering the caliber of participants, ticket prices are a bargain and are variable so contact gamechangernd.com. For folks who can’t be there in person, the program will be mainstreamed free of charge at gamechangernd.com.

Omdahl is a former lieutenant governor and former political science professor at UND.

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