Rembering James Nelson Goodsell

By Bohning, Don | Hemisphere, Spring 1997 | Go to article overview

Rembering James Nelson Goodsell

Bohning, Don, Hemisphere

Jim Goodsell, the longtime Latin American correspondent from the Christian Science Monitor had that great quality of being both a good reporter and a first-rate human being. I first met Jim in 1966 in the Dominican Republic in advance of that country's first post-civil war elections. I last saw Jim in mid-January 1996 when we had lunch to kick around some agenda ideas for the Fourteenth Annual Journalists and Editors Workshop. He will be missed.

Jim, as many of us dinosaurs, had grown increasingly concerned about the state of Journalism and particularly foreign reporting in the modern age. Despite the tremendous technological advances, in some ways, matters were much less complex and more straightforward 30 years or so ago. In that light, it might be more instructive attempting to predict the shape of foreign coverage into the 21st century by taking a look backwards to see how far we have come in the past three decades.

Communications were horrible 30 years ago. The main source of news into the newsroom was the teletype machine, roaring along at 60 words a minute. The same day New York Times was unavailable except for stories that moved on its wire service. Once the Sunday Times showed up in the newsroom on Tuesday. The one advantage was that you could write the same story a week after the Times had it, and no Herald reader would know the difference. United Press International was still fighting the good fight with the Associated Press. Editing was literally a cut and paste job.

The Herald did not even have a telex machine in the newsroom at that, time. The only telex machine in the building was in advertising on the second floor. A case was finally made for a newsroom telex after the shooting by the US Marines of my predecessor, Al Burt, and a Herald photographer, Doug Kennedy, during the 1965 Dominican Republic Civil War--an incident which happened 31 years ago.

Lee Winfrey, another Herald correspondent from the Washington bureau was also in the Dominican Republic. It was impossible to get a telephone call in or out of the country. Two days after the shooting, the Herald had not heard from Winfrey and details of the incident and the condition of Al and Doug remained uncertain. Editors in the newsroom were cursing Winfrey until an employee from advertising called the newsroom and said there was this long telex downstairs on the machine that they could not figure out. He thought the telex might belong to the newsroom. It did. The telex gave Winfrey's detailed account of the shooting incident. The message had been on advertising's telex machine for well over 24 hours before anyone in that department had bothered to notify the newsroom.

As an anecdotal footnote to that incident, my first trip to the Dominican Republic came just a year later and it was the one in which I met Jim Goodsell. Goodsell, myself and, Nate Miller, the Riobased correspondent for the Baltimore-Sun (who went on to become a well-known naval historian) hired a taxi and drove to Santiago to interview Antonio Guzman, Juan Bosch's vice presidential candidate in the tipcoming elections, won by Joaquin Balaguer. The taxi driver was the same one who had been driving Al Burt and Doug Kennedy when they had been shot by the Marines a year earlier.

It was an era of erratic and ulcer-inducing telephone communications. To cover a breaking foreign story by telephone was virtually impossible. Calls had to be placed through an operator and, particularly in time of crisis, telephone lines were so jammed that it often took hours to get a call through. And if it happened to be a military coup, a frequent occurrence in the 1960s, telephone lines were most likely cut.

If you were on the road, getting stories back to the Herald, was another problem. You either brought them back with you or took them to the local airport and shipped them by Pan Am Clipper cargo. When the flight arrived in Miami, someone had to go to the cargo area on the west side of the airport, pick up the package and clear it through customs. …

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