College alumnus shares thoughts on urban journalism

The Baltimore Sun's Gilbert Sandler stressed the need to focus on the problems facing cities

The Daily Pennsylvanian
October 24, 1997

Gilbert Sandler, a Baltimore Sun columnist and 1949 College graduate, encouraged aspiring journalists Wednesday to keep an eye open for "what really happens out there."

Surrounded by an intimate group of students Wednesday night, Sandler shared his thoughts on urban journalism and offered advice to students considering writing careers.

During the lecture, entitled, "Writing About Urban Affairs," and coordinated by the Kelly Writers House and the School of Arts and Sciences, Sandler stressed the need for examining the issues facing American, cities in the 20th century.

"The notion of writing about the problems' in cities is important," he said, noting that the problems within cities - including teenage pregnancy, drug use and crime - derive from urban flight.

"You can't run away from the problems," Sandler stressed. "It will catch up with you. And you will go down with it."

Suggesting a variety of ways to improve cities such as pilot programs and community involvement Sandler said "the heart of urban journalism is giving birth to solutions."

Sandler also said all students should take an active role in urban affairs. He noted that students, especially at Penn, can play a vital role in their surrounding communities.

"This University in particular has special reason to be concerned about these problems," he said. "You are part of the problem."

Writers House resident coordinator Kerry Sherin a Temple University graduate student helped set up Sandler's appearance.

"I was inspired to realize that cities are organic in that they change and they grow, and that people can have an effect on what happens to them," she said.

Sherin added that she agrees with Sandler's assertion that more interaction must occur between the University and the surrounding West Philadelphia communities.

"That has always been an issue at Penn," she added. "To find out that someone who was at Penn in the forties and has been doing it all his life is inspiring."

While Sandler described the journalism of urban affairs as "fascinating," he also pointed to the emotional side of writing about cities.

"Writing about urban issues is like walking uphill a slippery slope," he said. "Most of the things you write about are grim and sad."

But Sandler remains optimistic.

"Those of us in journalism have to be romantic," he said. 'We have to believe that the city is where ideas are born."

As an undergraduate, Sandler noted that he wrote a weekly column and was a junior editor for The Daily Pennsylvanian.

"My column was an attempt to be New Yorker sophisticate," he said. "I wrote about world government and things going on at the campus, but in a way that made me appear to be a sort of urban chic."

At The Sun, Sandler writes a monthly column focusing on issues facing Baltimore, such as urban renewal. He still maintains the attitude he held as, a student writer: "Well, look what's going on here and isn't this interesting?"


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