AP editor talks life, journalism

By on May 7, 2014
Asia-Pacific news director Ted Anthony was in Lititz last week. (photo by Dick Wanner)

Asia-Pacific news director Ted Anthony was in Lititz last week. (photo by Dick Wanner)

A funny thing happened as Ted Anthony prepared to move himself and his wife and two sons from Allensville, Pa. to Bangkok, where he will assume the job of Asia-Pacific news director for the Associated Press. With the Anthonys’ departure just weeks away, he accepted an invitation to address the 250 multi-cultural, multi-national student body at Linden Hall. The students, all girls in sixth through 12th grades, hail from 16 countries and 19 states, definitely a cosmopolitan group.

Anthony fit right in. He has reported from 20 countries for the AP, but began his international travels at the age of seven, when his parents moved to Singapore for a year. In 1979, when he was 11, they moved again, for a year, to Beijing. “They practically had to drag me by the hair to Beijing,” Anthony told the crowd last Wednesday in the school’s filled-to-overflowing 300-seat auditorium.

And, it being 1979, a long-hair year for young American males, there was plenty of hair by which to be dragged. It was not a long-hair year for Chinese youths, though. Chinese girls had long hair. Not boys. Anthony showed his listeners a picture of his long-haired self in Beijing, wearing a T-shirt and smiling at the camera. There was a slogan on the T-shirt, but it couldn’t be read in the photo.

Here’s the funny part:

The slogan on his T-shirt, Anthony said, was, “???????!”

At least half the room laughed out loud. They got the joke &tstr; “I am not a girl” &tstr; because the students who hadn’t grown up speaking Mandarin had learned it in Lititz. Daina Savage, Linden Hall’s director of communications, said the joke would have gone over equally well in French or Spanish.

Anthony speaks frequently in public about his personal history, his job, world affairs. His resume attracts attention and speaking invitations. A Penn State graduate, he began his journalism career at the Harrisburg Patriot-News and joined the AP in 1992 in Charleston, W.Va. He has covered stories ranging from the Oklahoma City bombing to Princess Diana’s death to the Olympic Games. He was appointed correspondent in Beijing in 2001 and promoted to news editor a year later.

In the years since, he has won important prizes, held increasingly responsible jobs in the AP’s print and multi-media operations, moved a bunch of times and along the way he wrote a book. You probably wouldn’t guess the subject of the book authored by this well-traveled, knowledgeable journalist who’s seen all manner of troubles and triumphs involving all manner of people and cultures.

The book is about a song made famous in the 1960s by the British rock group The Animals (speaking of troubles and triumphs). The song is “The House of the Rising Sun,” and it’s probably going to be stuck in your head now for the next week or so. The song has roots in the Kentucky hills and from there it branched out to every corner of the music world that cared about folk and blues music. Anthony followed the tune’s trail from New Orleans to Kentucky to the Carolinas and eventually back to New Orleans. The book’s title is “Chasing the Rising Sun.”

Anthony is a serious journalist, and his usual presentation covers the stuff of serious journalism, how it’s done, where it’s done, how it’s changing. At Linden Hall he talked about everyday miracles of communication he’s witnessed as they came into being. When he first lived in China, wearing that T-shirt, the only way to communicate with folks back home was through the mail. It took three weeks for letters to get from China to the U.S. In the year the family was there, they made one international phone call &tstr; to his sister for her birthday &tstr; and it took four operators to complete the call.

How things have changed. “A few months ago, I talked on Face Time for an hour with friends in Myanmar. On Facebook, I watch my friend from Pakistan argue politics with my friend from Harrisburg. Yesterday I posted a picture of my mother from 1943 &tstr; one moment long ago, but now I can show it to the world.

“What I see as magic, you see as unexceptional,” Anthony said. Those everyday miracles are part of an unstoppable move to globalization, which can be a force for good or bad, he noted. “But I think this kind of place is the best of the promise that globalization has to offer.”

Anthony expanded his usual professional journalism presentation to include a subject that he’s developing into his second book. The book will be about storytelling. It’s a work in progress and he doesn’t know when it will be done.

He shared his thoughts and even a few props with his Linden Hall audience. His props included Cheetos, Ritz crackers, Barbie Dolls, and a gift shop yield sign. They all had stories to tell. Hanging on a bedroom wall, the yield sign might say of the room’s occupant that she was the kind of person who would steal a sign just for the fun and excitement of stealing a sign. Except that it was a $12 fake from a gift shop, and, “Anyway,” said someone in the audience, “it’s way too small to be a real sign.”

Which brought a laugh. And prompted Anthony to wonder if she had some sign-stealing experience, which brought another laugh.

Anthony opened the bag of Cheetos and passed them around the room. It was one bag of Cheetos and it came back to Anthony half full, which says something about the nutritional smarts at Linden Hall. The story that Frito-Lay is telling the public is that Cheetos are cheese. “But there is no cheese that color,” Anthony pointed out.

He had bags of themed Ritz crackers. There was a bag that featured a weathered rocker on the weathered porch of a southern home, where the weathered people are friendly and hospitality never ends. Another bag had a western theme and contained crackers with the kind of peppery kick those tough westerners hankered for. “Are they selling us crackers or stories?” Anthony wanted to know.

International Barbie, though, was the real howler. There was Mexico Barbie with her sombrero and a Chihuahua under her arm. There was French Barbie carrying a basket of baguettes. India Barbie was resplendent in a saffron sari and gold jewelry and a monkey on her arm. China Barbie, of course, was wearing a red dress with gold trim, a Mandarin collar, and a slit from ankle to thigh. And she was carrying a panda.

The story that each of these Barbies told wasn’t so much a story as a stereotype. Anthony built on that idea to encourage his listeners to think critically about every story they hear or read or see on their ubiquitous screens.

And not just about the products they buy, but about the news they’re exposed to.

After his speech, Anthony stood outside the auditorium for more than an hour and talked (mostly in English but sometimes in Mandarin) individually to students whose questions and comments ranged from the merely curious to the probing to the critical but always polite. And even, if one may still use the expression, ladylike.

Contacted by email the day after his visit to Lititz, Anthony said of the experience, “I was hugely impressed with the school and its students. I enjoyed their intellectual curiosity and their willingness to engage, in a large group of their peers, with a guest speaker. I liked that they felt confident enough to not only ask questions but challenge MY narrative and ask me how I came to my world view. They were bold and vigorous and probing and savvy, and they clearly wanted to know more about pretty much everything. It made me optimistic about the coming years and decades.”

Dick Wanner is a staff writer for the Lititz Record Express and can be reached at rwanner.eph@lnpnews.com, or by phone at 717-419-403.

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