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Print News and Space Science are Subject of Medill Program

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January 8, 2008 | by Wendy Leopold

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Space pioneer James Van Allen and recent changes in newspaper coverage will be the subjects of a Crain Lecture titled "News and Space" Monday, Jan. 14, when authors Abigail Foerstner and Michele Weldon discuss their latest books.

The two writers -- both on faculty at Northwestern University's Medill School -- will speak at the McCormick Tribune Center Forum, 1870 Campus Drive, on the University's Evanston campus. The 5 to 7 p.m. event is free and open to the public. A reception will follow.

Weldon, a veteran newspaper reporter and assistant professor of journalism, is author of the new book, "Everyman News: The Changing American Front Page (University of Missouri Press). In it, she analyzes 160 front pages in 20 American newspapers for eight dates in 2001 and 2004 to see how news in an area of declining newspaper readership has changed.

Medill lecturer and journalist Abigail Foerstner celebrates the 50th anniversary of America's first satellite with a biography of James Van Allen, "James Van Allen: The First Eight Billion Miles" (University of Iowa Press). Her book takes a fresh look at the space race spawned by the 1957 Russian launch of Sputnik and resulting in the first U.S. satellite launch in 1958 and creation of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) the same year.

In her "Everyman" analysis of newspaper front pages, Weldon found a shift from hard news stories to features and an increase in anecdotal or personal approaches to feature and news articles alike. "Forces including blogs, citizen journalism and newsroom diversity have converged to remake the front page," says Weldon, unveiling what she calls the shift to "everyman news."

Where newspaper reports once were viewed as the "first draft of history," Weldon suggests that print news has become more of an anecdotal companion to history. "Newspapers have evolved into 'story papers' that use more unofficial sources than ever before to personalize the news."

Drawing on space pioneer Van Allen's personal papers as well as declassified documents and interviews, science writer Foerstner documents how Van Allen trailblazed the field of space science -- remapping the solar system and continuing his research at the University of Iowa until his death in 2006 at age 91.

"His instruments were aboard more than 200 rockets, satellites and space probes that transmitted data over six decades," says Foerstner. "The Pioneer 10 mission alone sent him more than 30 years of readings and helped all of us to realize that the solar system extends billions of miles beyond the planets."

For more on "Everyman News," visit www.everymannews.com, with an interactive map showing the shift from news to features. Visit www.uipress.uiowa.edu/books/2007-fall/foerstnerjamvan.html for more on "James Van Allen." For more on the Jan. 14 event, call (847) 491-5401 or visit http://www.medill.northwestern.edu/.