Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Grasshoppers are old masters now





Newspaper by neighbors comes home
By Bob Welch
Register-Guard columnist
PUBLISHED: 12:00 A.M., JULY 25

Whoever placed the 12-by-14-inch manila envelope on Heather Kliever’s porch near Laurelwood Golf Course last Friday left no name or message.

Kliever carefully opened it and there they were: more than a dozen copies of “The Grasshopper,” a kid-produced newspaper from the Fairmount neighborhood dating to the ’60s.

“I was giddy,” says Kliever of someone who apparently responded to a blurb she’d written about the paper for the Fairmount Neighborhood newsletter.

There, before her, was a sampling of the kind of in-your-face journalism that earned “The Grasshopper” a 1966 mention in Sports Illustrated — “Ryan Snellstrom’s sister got hit in the nose with a bat”; an exclusive interview with Gov. Tom McCall; and a two-hour session with runner Steve Prefontaine.

A newspaper once lost to time, now not only found, but officially part of the collection at the Lane County Historical Museum.

“It was fabulous,” says Eugene attorney Derek Johnson, 54, a staff member who, ironically, lives in the house near Hendricks Park that once served as the paper’s “office.”

Back then, it belonged to University of Oregon Journalism Dean John Hulteng and his wife, B.J., the latter who served as staff adviser — and whose children were on staff.

“The office was in the basement,” Johnson says. “Only the editorial board got to meet upstairs in the kitchen. I remember Pre being interviewed in the basement, leaning up against a support post.”

Credit Kliever, 39, for bringing to light this mimeo­graphed paper that once had a subscription list of 231 people in the area mainly fanning south and east from Hayward Field.

The registrar at the museum, she had recently moved with her family to the Fairmount neighborhood when she mentioned to a neighbor how much she liked the nostalgic feel.

“You want nostalgia,” Sandra Austin said. “You need to see ‘The Grasshopper.’”

Austin pulled out dozens of original copies of a news­paper that a staff of mainly elementary school-age ch­ildren produced between 1966 and 1974.

“Buffy’s Dad Runs for Mayor” headlined the June 3, 1968, front page. It was about Les Anderson, father of a 12-year-old “Grasshopper” whose dad, yep, went on to become mayor.

Beyond politics, the paper reported on violence (“Charlie and another dog had a fight outside the Grasshopper office”); business (“Sunday I had a cool-aid stand”); and editorials (“The Gontrums have a new dog. Drive carefully, please. He likes to stand in the street.”)

It was a blend of “kids will be kids” — spelling and grammar were only fixed if a child asked the adviser about it — and legitimate reporting.

The children interviewed the likes of McCall, Pre (twice) and UO President Robert Clark (“He offered us candy, and we got down to bussiness”).

Sports Illustrated, in its Aug. 1, 1966, issue, wrote three paragraphs about the paper, including “foreign correspondent” Katy Gontrum’s observation that “in Germany none of the children have freckles!”

“If you were under 6 you could dictate your story,” remembers Nancie Fadeley, whose children, Charles and Shira, worked on the staff. “After 6, you had to write the story yourself.”

“What made it so charming was that some of these little kids couldn’t write but the older kids would help them,” says Ellen Platt, then on staff and now, at 54, senior reference librarian at Santa Clara (Calif.) University’s School of Law.

Dozens of kids fanned out each week from January through May to fill the 10 issues.

The distribution staff alone once totaled 41 children who also were responsible for collecting the 25-cent sub­scription fee.

“Mrs. Hulteng was a no-nonsense person,” says Charles Fadeley, now 56 and justice of the peace for Deschutes County. “She was very good at communicating what she expected to get done.”

And took a free-press attitude toward what got printed.

“I remember writing about what kids at (Condon) school wore for Halloween,” Charles Fadeley says. “My last line was: ‘Teachers didn’t wear anything.’”

It ran.

Paul Pierson, now a professor of political science at the University of California at Berkeley and author of a handful of books on politics, worked on the paper. So did Clatsop County District Attorney Josh Marquis, whose op-ed pieces on victims’ rights and capital punishment have appeared in USA Today and other major papers.

“It was part of an idyllic childhood,” he says.

“We were a bunch of UO faculty brats. Our parents were very encouraging of it. My father let me use his Olivetti typewriter, which was no small thing.”

Not that there weren’t challenges. “I still remember a staff meeting where they warned us that kids in the Edison School area were starting a paper and how we needed to squash these ‘upstarts,’” Johnson says.

We’ll never see the likes of “The Grasshopper” again.

“They had a freedom then our children don’t have now,” Kliever says. “Now, we have kids in camps. Everything is so structured. There were a lot more stay-at-home moms then.”

All the more reason, she figures, to preserve this slice of history. Kliever has about three-fourths of the 80 or so issues that were published.

Think you might have saved a few you want to donate? E-mail her at collections@lanecountyhistoricalsociety.org.

Follow Welch on Twitter @bob_welch. He can be reached at 541-338-2354 or bob.welch@registerguard.com.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Is Wrongful Conviction Rendering Our System Unworkable?

That's the title of my contribution to this year's annual publication by the American Bar Association on criminal justice issues. Here's the takeaway:
As a career prosecutor (who also spent two years as a criminal defense attorney), I can conclusively state that a prosecutor's worse nightmare is not losing -- guilty people get off with some frequency. The worse scenario is an innocent person being convicted. 
That being said the next discussion point must start with the acknowledgment that the justice system is NOT perfect and can be improved. . . . 
We all want to live in, and more importantly as lawyers participate in, a system that is as fair as humanly possible. The only way to absolutely ensure there will never be a wrongful conviction is to place the bar for conviction so high that convictions become as rare as acquittals are in oppressive regimes that only give lip service to the rule of law. 
There are many achievable ways to improve the system. 
(1) Recruit, train and retain good people in defense, prosecution and the bench. (Salaries for judges are becoming so relatively low that it is becoming a bar to many good people taking the bench.) 
(2) Ensure that modern truth-finding techniques (like DNA testing) are readily available to prevent a wrongful arrest from even going to court. 
(3) Remember that in a democratic society the citizens the justice system needs to protect need to BELIEVE in the system. If they think they are being lied to about sentencing (for example), they start treating the whole system with suspicion. This doesn't mean necessarily harsher sentences, just that whatever a judge hands down should bear a close relationship to what the defendant serves. 
. . . 
Read the full chapter of "Is Wrongful Conviction Rendering Our System Unworkable?" (4 pages)

Order the ABA's Criminal Justice 2013 through the ABA website.