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[Previous J-school tribute pages: Prof. Phyllis Garland, 2007 | Prof. James Carey, 2006]
Professor Richard Blood, who taught at Columbia Journalism School and NYU for several years, died on Friday, Feb. 17, 2012. He was 83. We are awaiting more information and will be posting it here.
“The Richard Blood No Pedestrian Reporting Award” is given out every year at the J-school graduation by a group of his former students (led by PBS Frontline producer Raney Aronson), for outstanding reporting by a member of the graduating class.
We are also collecting tributes to Prof. Blood. If you have something you’d like to share, including, favorite memories, quotes, etc, please email them to email@example.com (subject line = Prof. Blood) for inclusion here. As we receive them, we’ll post. If you are an alum, please including your graduation year. (Photo here and the one below from Savannah Blackwell, ‘92)
From Prof. Samuel Freedman: Dick Blood was as exceptional a mentor to people who teach journalism as to people who do journalism. He brought the same tenacity, integrity, stratospheric standards, and, yes, joy, to the classroom as to the newsroom. He is irreplaceable.
From Prof. LynNell Hancock:
Dick Blood was always zipping along in fourth gear, in mid-conversation, as soon as I picked up the
ringing phone. He never bothered to introduce himself. And he never needed to bother.
“Do you think we have anything left to teach these days? “ he would often growl, on the other end,
having stewed over the question during pre-dawn hours, generously waiting for a more civilized time to
make the call.
There was no mistaking the voice, or the man. Dick Blood brought a sense of scorched-earth urgency to
the world of journalism and to the minds of young students he taught for years at Columbia, at NYU, at
Seton Hall. That urgency may have terrified the meek, but it inspired the newly converted.
His famous brusqueness was not the bluster of ego, as it was with so many others. It derived from a
ferocious sense of caring. Journalism was a mission for him, a privilege to practice as a profession. He
had no time for anyone who didn’t share his passion for standards. If a student misspelled Giuliani , he
returned the story unread. If a student missed a deadline, Blood would greet that unforgivable breach
of discipline with a withering glare from beneath his Irish eyebrows: “Where do you think you are, on
your high school newspaper?”
I remember watching with concern one day as a student stumbled rather bleary eyed out of Blood’s
RW1 classroom into the hallway, heading for his locker. He looked as if he had been whacked on the
knees for one infraction or another. Instead, the young man gathered his wits and said to me, “I have
ten interviews to do. I feel like walking through walls after hearing Professor Blood talk this morning.“
Blood’s bullshit detector was on full blast, day and night, for lazy students, for pompous colleagues, for
administrators who rubbed him sideways.
During one of my first faculty meetings as a new instructor, Blood ceremoniously pulled a pocket watch
out of his vest, held it at arm’s length for all to see, and proceeded to time a fellow professor who was
famous for droning on and on about himself. Self-aggrandizing was one of the many things that drove
Not far beneath the scratchy rawness of Blood’s demeanor was a generous soul, a literary aficionado, a
natural intellect. He was a voracious reader–historical nonfiction, nearly every daily and magazine.
Style and dignity were important to him. He would carry a wooden lectern into his seminar rooms and
teach standing up, in his starched shirt and cufflinks.
He admired the hell out of so many of his students, particularly the young women who had families and
worked twice as hard as the men to get noticed. He gave 200 percent to anyone he thought was the real
deal. And he blistered the posers by turning a deaf ear. Respect was demanded, and mutual: he referred
to his students by their last names, as Miss or Mr.
Many of us tried to coax him to write a book in his reluctant retirement– he had many lessons to
impart as a self-made editor. He recoiled at the audacity of that proposition. As much as he impressed
his students, Dick Blood did not impress himself. “Who would want to read that?” he would say, in
disbelief. “Maybe my kids, but probably not even them.” His reticence was genuine, as was every
single bone in his body. Still, I wish we had that memoir.
Blood’s tales were legion, and he was a hilarious story teller. He raised himself, as he told it, in New
Hampshire and Vermont. His parents were mostly absent. As a teenager, he joined the rough and
raucous Merchant Marines, and later clawed his way into the world of newspaper editing, finding
himself at the top of his game on the news desk of the largest circulation daily in the United States, the
Daily News during its heyday. There he edited some of the most gifted reporters and writers in the city.
He liked to tell about a rookie reporter on her first day at the Daily News. She reported to Blood dressed
in high heels and a fur coat, “a graduation gift from my parents,” she told him proudly. Blood took one
look at her get-up and sent her out to cover a violent shootout in a Bronx apartment, in the pouring rain.
Hours later, she returned, looking more like a drenched rat than a debutante. She flipped through her
notebook, breathlessly recounting the details of the crime: something like, two victims, three weapons,
four eyewitnesses and bullet holes in the mirror.
“How many bullet holes?” Blood asked. “I don’t know, I didn’t count them,” she answered. Blood
pointed silently to the door. By then the rain had become a nor’easter. She returned to the Bronx to
count the bullet holes.
That’s a lesson neither I nor the now veteran political reporter will forget. I have a lot more to thank
him for – my job at Columbia, for instance, and a great friendship. I’ll miss picking up the phone
and hearing him launch into a heartfelt soliloquy over something he just read. “We had a good run,
Hancock,” he told me in what was to be our last conversation. “Remind your students about the bullet
From Assistant Dean Melanie Huff:
My Saturday began with an email from LynNell Hancock with the subject line Dick Blood. The tears came before the message even opened. I immediately hit forward to notify my mother, who had met Prof. Blood many times over the years. She replied saying, “This is very sad news. I remember how supportive he was for you and for your mommy in those beginning years of your working at Columbia. He was aware of your career potential before you were and so encouraging.”
I arrived at the Journalism School with a freshly awarded BA and no clue what I wanted in life other than not leaving New York. So I stuck with what I knew and took a job at Columbia. I was assigned to answer phones and make photo copies for Prof. Blood and Prof. Phyl Garland. She was a night owl who favored classes and office hours held after 5 pm so often it was just me and Prof. Blood chatting away in the 5th floor office.
Prof. Blood was at once gruff, elegant and risqué. He could scare the hell out of folks but was as kindhearted as they come. I often spoke with terrified students waiting for him on the couch outside his office – it is those same folks, now accomplished journalists, whose tributes are pouring in to the various remembrance pages.
He paid for and I fetched both our lunches each day. He always had the white fish salad on white bread with mayo. When he placed phone calls, he would announce himself – This is Dick Blood – Blood as in plasma! At one point, we all received computers to replace our Selectric typewriters and a new push button phone system with built in voice messaging – neither were much to Prof. Blood’s liking in the beginning. I was frequently called into his office to trouble shoot XyWrite and to retrieve his voicemails.
Having heard him rant about this or that student’s misspelling a name or making a grammatical error, I adopted the habit of checking everything I wrote -even phone messages- for AP Style!
No one was more thrilled than Prof. Blood when I decided to pursue a graduate degree in English Education with a concentration in the teaching of writing. He couldn’t wait for us to take a graduation photo. He was fatherly proud!
My first year working for him was the year that Frank Bruni and Elli Burkett were at the School. Their frequent visits with Prof. Blood were always the best. Both were utterly progressive and loved engaging him in spirited, witty discussions of all things politically correct – not concepts about which he was naturally enthusiastic.
After he left Columbia, we caught up on the phone periodically and he sometimes wrote me notes – real, posted in the mail, notes! He always wanted to know if Columbia was treating me right and if I had gotten married without inviting him. I always promised that were I to get engaged he would know immediately.
He tried retirement but hated it so much that he simply had to return to the classroom where he belonged. We also corresponded each year about the award given out annually at graduation to honor a student in his name for excellence in reporting. He loved receiving the winning submission as well as the program that listed the award.
I will miss him.
From Neal Hirschfeld (former adjunct prof):
My first night as a reporter at the Daily News, a dense fog rolled in over the New Jersey Turnpike and caused a chain-reaction pileup. Multiple car crashes, multiple fatalities. As night city editor, Dick assigned each of the night-side reporters one victim, instructing the reporter to find out as much as he or she could about that particular victim so the paper could put together a roundup story. My “victim” was a college student.
Dreading the call I had to make, I phoned the victim’s house and spoke with his brother. Shattered by his younger sibling’s death, the brother was in tears. I did manage to learn that the deceased had been a student at Montclair State College. Apologizing profusely for intruding on his family’s grief, I hung up the phone and breathed a sigh of relief. I reported my findings to Dick.
“What year of school was he in?” Dick asked.
I looked at him dumbly. “I don’t know.”
“Don’t you think the readers of the Daily News will want to know the answer to that question?”
My stomach began to knot up. “You mean you want me to call the family BACK again?”
Dick just looked at me. “You’re the reporter. What do you think?”
The message was clear. Returning to my desk, heart pounding with anxiety, throat turning drier and drier, I picked up the phone and called the brother back. I slobbered all over myself with apologies, then asked in what year of study the victim had been. “How could you do this to us?” the brother asked between great heaving sobs. “Have you no compassion at a time like this? Have you no heart? I just lost my brother, for godssakes!” Feeling like the lowest worm on the planet, I couldn’t think of a good answer. But I sucked up my shame and pressed on until I got the information I needed.
When I reported back to Dick that the victim had been a sophomore, he nodded. I began to relax. Then he asked, “What was his major?”
Eyes widening, I looked back at him in terror. “You don’t mean…?”
I couldn’t complete the sentence. Seeing Dick’s granite expression, I already knew the answer.
I would have to call the brother back yet again, adding to the torture I had already inflicted on this grieving family. If,at that moment, I could have crawled under a rock and made myself invisible, I would have. But no such luck. I had a job to do, and
Dick would not be satisfied until I did it. So, cursing my existence on the planet, I made my third call to the grieving family.
“Business administration,” I told Dick, praying that I had finally satisfied him. “He was majoring in business administration.”
Dick grunted. Finally, blessedly, I was off the hook.
Dick taught me an important lesson that night, which stayed with me throughout my reporting career. You might only have one chance to interview a source for your story, so make the best of it. Be prepared. Know in advance the questions you needed to ask.
Don’t leave any bases uncovered. When I came into work the following day, I wrote up a list of 50 or 60 possible questions to ask on all future crime stories. That list remained taped to the inside cover of my personal telephone book for the next decade. My Blood list.
Dick could be tough on his reporters. The ultimate litmus test for him was not how you dressed, where you went to school or who was the rabbi who helped get you hired. It was whether you could do the job. If you could, he became the president and chief executive officer of your fan club. He invited you into his inner circle, took you out after the night shift for a beer and a burger at P.J. Clarke’s, brought you into his late -night poker games (although when I declined to attend one such game, he retaliated by assigning me to cover a midnight candlelight vigil at St. Patrick’s Cathedral…in a freezing, driving rainstorm…that nobody else showed up for).
But if you couldn’t do the job for him, God help you. He would become your worst nightmare. And torment the hell out of you. Dick hated fakers, slackers and phonies. One particular object of his scorn was an entertainment reporter who had never covered a crime story, but boasted about all his important connections in Hollywood. The reporter specialized in writing puff-piece profiles of celebrities and fawning reviews of books written by already-bestselling authors. But in Dick’s eyes, he was not a real journalist, just a poseur and a suckup. To convey his contempt, Dick would deliberately mangle the reporter’s last name, verbally contorting it to make it sound like an ethnic chicken dish. Enraged by these taunts, the reporter actually threatened Dick, vowing that some of his less savory relatives would rearrange Dick’s kneecaps. Dick sloughed off the threat.
Years later, this same reporter published a shocking “nonfiction” memoir, for which he received a sizable paycheck. Then various news organizations discovered that the book was a fabrication. Both the memoir and its author were discredited. Yes, he got to keep his money. But in the eyes of serious journalists and nonfiction writers, he had been unmasked as a bullshitter or, in newspaper speak, a “pipejob artist.” And for real editors like Dick, that was justice enough. A journalist’s reputation meant everything, Dick would say. Once shattered, it could never be restored. And this writer’s reputation had been sullied beyond repair. What’s more, Dick had been proven right about the guy all along.
For a while, I served as Dick’s adjunct at Columbia’s J-School. Years later, after we both had left the Daily News, we remained good friends. As fanatical supporters of the New York Giants, we shared our joy after the team’s triumphs, our grief after its
defeats, our doubts about its player cuts and acquisitions…and our rage over its insane increase in ticket prices. I came to his wedding. He came to mine. Periodically, we would meet for lunch on the West Side or catch up on the phone, savoring the old newsroom war stories. One particular favorite was about the Greek rewriteman with the bad toupe who would often fall asleep at his desk, with his fingers still on the keys of his typewriter. This would incite Dick to shout across the newsroom floor, “Mister Stathos, we’re writing for TOMORROW’S paper!” Incensed that Dick had the temerity to interrupt his much-needed sleep, the rewriteman took to pasting hand-drawn replicas of wide-open eyes, with bulging eyeballs, inside his glasses, hoping the ruse would keep Dick off his back. It didn’t.
When Dick would periodically inquire of me what it was like to freelance, and I always deadpanned, “Great. Just don’t try it at home,” he always got the joke. He never failed to tell me how much he was rooting for me on my various writing projects.
Generous to a fault, he was my biggest cheerleader and supporter.
I shall miss him terribly.
From Andrew Salomon ‘91
I took CNS in the second half of the spring semester. I pitched a story to him, he rejected it. I pitched another, he rejected that. I began to sweat. A day later, I walked into his office and said, “I don’t think I’m going to make it in your class.” He looked at me and said, “I don’t think you are either.” I transferred to photojournalism. I’ve had a pretty good career, surviving for a quarter century and working for some of the best newspapers in the country. Still, I wonder what it would have been like had I managed to squeeze out seven weeks of CNS under the tutelage of Prof. Blood.
From Frank Bruni, ‘88:
Terror. Then gratitude. Then enormous respect. Then monumental affection. That was the arc of feeling toward Dick Blood that almost every student traveled. He didn’t suffer fools or slackers gladly and brought out the best in people–in journalists, most of all. God how he loved journalism and how he wanted everyone else to love it and work at it and excel. He gave me and so many other students of his such motivation and such confidence in the end. And he was so warm and funny once you cracked the surface. My dear friend Elli Burkett and I were students of his at the same time at Columbia and she and I hung out constantly, though we’re more than 15 years apart in age, and I can still hear him asking after her by saying: “How’s Mother?” It always cracked me up. He always cracked me up. I’m so grateful I–and the rest of us–had him in our lives. I hope he knew that. I hope his family still does. And I give them my deepest, deepest condolences.
Martin Huberman ‘92:
Sarah Jay takes those of us lucky enough to be in Prof. Blood’s RW1 class right back into the classroom that day in late-August 1991 as we all sat there waiting and waiting for the professor to show up for our first class in our first day at the Journalism School. When he finally showed up (the one and only day he was not prompt), podium in hand, he read to us from the note from the student who was writing for Newsday, exactly as Sarah recalled. But then he stormed out of the class to go directly to the Dean of Students to ensure that this student never stepped in to his class. Then, when he finally came back to start our first class, he began, “you may have heard that I am sexist, you may have heard that I am racist, you may have heard that I am anti-Semitic… If you don’t want to be in this class, there is the door…” Quite an introduction. Quite a year. A real honor to have been Prof. Blood’s student. Even if he never shared his recipe for nine-pan chocolate mousse.
From Natalia de Cuba Romero, ‘88:
Professor Blood’s reputation as a hard ass, Old School, rough and tumble newsman was terrifying – and I was not a particularly confident student by the time I got to his office for the Columbia News Service part of my degree – so I prepared to be shredded. What I got instead was an enthusiastic reception, a charming and erudite conversationalist, a fierce supporter, and the most fun I could imagine. Dick Blood was interested in everything in gory detail. He got me to chase after oddball stories and come back to tell the tale and then helped me tell it better. He believed so utterly in my ability to report and write something worthwhile that I believed him too. Without him I probably would not have stayed the course, or the career. I am so lucky to have known him.
From Theta Pavis, ‘93: Prof. Blood pushed his students so that we could grow. He didn’t just yell because he could. After leaving Columbia I had editors yell at me, sometimes from across the newsroom. Their loud voices rarely helped me grow as a writer or a reporter, and honestly, I was never terrified of them as I was of Prof. Blood. Humiliated, yes. But not frightened in a way that left you working hard, so as not to disappoint. He was brutal and tough and a great teacher. I have so many vivid memories from his class. Our first session, where he lectured for hours, I could actually see his humor and dared to laugh at his jokes (I was one of the few). I was one of the first to see him afterwards and pitch my story ideas and he remembered me laughing in class (easy to do since I was wearing a velvet cap.) He approved some stories, and when I turned one in later he came straight out and told me it was “a nice piece of literary work” but it wasn’t journalism. I reworked it and handed it back in; his criticism was, I think, a critical turning point for me because he pushed me to understand and adopt the flow and pacing of journalism writing.
When he came flying out of his office later with the copy in his hand yelling for me, we all froze at our computers. He was there to praise me - telling me I had got it right. He was loud and he was genuinely happy. It was something to see. After he stomped out of the room we all sat there speechless. It was a brief moment in my time at the J-school but an important one. Prof. Blood saw that I cared and that I was willing to work hard and gave me a chance, where some other professors sometimes gave me the feeling I didn’t belong there. In Blood’s class, if I was willing to give it my sweat and tears — I belonged. He made me a stronger reporter and writer. I took him up on the challenge to do a “police ride along” and when I told him I was up for it, he picked up the phone in front of me, called a friend and asked for a recommendation to the worst precinct around. He was daring me, challenging me and probably waiting to see if I would tremble. He sent me to Bed-Sty. Of course, when I showed up the police were a bit flabbergasted and sent me packing. But I wouldn’t leave. There was no way I was going to face Prof. Blood and tell him they hadn’t LET me go. I refused to leave, and even pushed them to give me a bullet proof vest (because my professor said so.) Ten minutes after we climbed into their cruiser, the officers and I were speeding through the streets at over 90 miles an hour to a shooting. It was an amazing night for me and when I got home at 4 in the morning I was tired and happy. To this day I am glad I took Prof. Blood’s class. I kept in touch a bit over the years, and he continued to give me good, clear advice. He will be greatly missed.
From Richard Gross, ‘93: I was not privileged to be a student of Professor Blood’s while at Columbia, though I recall him at commencement flanked onstage by devoted students.
However, I do remember one of his famous (and apparently oft-used) quotes as students neared term’s end and had not completed their requisite number of reported and edited stories:
“Do the math!”
Five decades of stories and three-plus decades nurturing storytellers - those are pretty good numbers.
From Liz Hamel Wellinghorst, ‘92: “Any form of pedestrianism will NOT be tolerated in this class and if you don’t like it my friend, there’s the door,” Prof. Blood, on our very first day of RWI, as remembered by
From Sameera Khan, ‘94: Prof Richard Blood was my Columbia News Service (CNS) boss and, god, was he tough to please. I was terrified of him at the time. No idea was good enough for him. He really challenged me to find new stories and in retrospect, I am so glad he did. Because the stories I did were challenging and more interesting as a result. Eventually, I got all my ideas and edited stories past him and at least three of them got published in the mainstream press while I was at Columbia. I met him a few months after graduation and mentioned where I was employed and he muttered something like, “…knew you could do it.” And I jumped with joy at this near-compliment! Coming from him, it meant the world. I now also teach journalism reporting /writing in Mumbai (India) and just recently when students were coming up with lame story ideas, I thought of Prof. Blood and his tough love. I now realize how you sometimes have to really push students to make them find and report stories that are more challenging and engaging. Thank you, Prof. Blood, may you rest in peace.
From Marcy Burstiner, ‘89 (now a journalism prof at Humboldt State U):
My first encounter with Prof. Blood was on Orientation Day in the World Room. He stood up at the lectern and welcomed us to the journalism program by telling us we were wasting out time here, that we should be out working.
He had the reputation of being Kingsfield ala The Paper Chase. I didn’t have a class with him until spring term. I was walking into the lobby of the J-School building when I saw a bunch of my friends coming down the stairs. They asked me why I hadn’t been to class. I gasped. I had forgotten the first day of class. I mixed up the dates or something. And it was Prof. Blood’s news wire class. I ran up the stairs to his office to apologize. There was a line of people waiting to see him. I went up to the secretary and asked to see him and she said: “Your name?” I told her. She gasped. Now, at the time, the J-School was a pass-fail program and failing one class meant you were out. Everyone knew that really, only one person flunked a year. When I got in to his office he gave me a look that said I was the one. I realized no excuse would get me out of this so I gave him none. I said, “I screwed up. I have no idea why I missed your class but it won’t happen again.” Then I read him a list of 20 ideas for feature stories that I had compiled in my head racing up the stairs and he loved three of them. He ended up helping me to get my first job, by giving me a great recommendation; he told the Southern Illinoisan I had solid news judgement; coming from him, that was high praise. Luckily, he kept our initial run-in to himself.
From Shirley Salemy Meyer, ‘91: Professor Blood’s high standards for newspapering helped me to come out of my shell of shyness, ask question after question after question and get the story with accuracy and speed. The lessons I learned from him remain with me today, whether I am writing a story or rearing children. I am so grateful that I was among his students.
From Sandy Tan, ‘93:
I disagree with the AP obit about Prof. Blood. He didn’t inspire adoration. Maybe some awe. But mostly, he inspired terror, a deep-seated terror of failure. That’s because he threatened his students with failure on a regular basis. He demanded more than any other professor, got more than any other professor and taught us more than any other professor about what it takes to achieve perfection in the craft of journalism. His requirements and deadlines were absolute, and his rules were the rules, not guidelines or suggestions. He wasn’t one of those teachers who lived for his students’ good opinion but rather pushed every student to the limits of achievement and hostility.
My clearest memory of Prof. Blood (none of us dared to called him “Dick”) was the one and only time I ever got him to bend his rules for me. I sat in his office and vociferously argued that a story I had written, while admittedly over the maximum inch-count he required, was worth every additional word over the maximum length. I argued all the same points I still argue with my newspaper editors today. Prof. Blood listened attentively, then said something to me like, “OK. I’ll take it. I don’t want to take it because I expected you to be better than this, to be able to meet the requirements I set for you. But because it’s late and the deadline is upon us, I take it the way you wrote it.”
There I sat with the story in my hand, stapled and ready to hand over. All I had to do was extend my arm. Instead, I groaned, told him I’d cut the story some more, got up and left.
Without Prof. Blood, I would have made a perfectly fine reporter, but I harbor no doubt that he made me a far better one.
From Sharon Glassman, ‘88:
The Bloodism I remember and heed most, is: “Read the clips.” Blood sent our RW1 class to our school library’s dusty paper clips to uncover his colorful past in neatly-segmented bits of black and white. “Read the clips” led me to pillage the sports section of the City Hall Barnes and Noble on the analog search morning when he challenged me, at 8 am, to interview boxer Michael Spinks at 8:30 am. It’s the first thing I did when I heard he was gone. Blood always insisted (wrongly) that I wore mismatched sneakers to class. But why argue? He had the kind of class you can’t copy, buy or beat. Just read the clips. Love and sympathy to Carol, Michael, Christopher and Kathleen.
PS: In case that last part sounded unduly sentimental, when Dele Olejede was teaching Soraya Zarghami and me how to play squash, I scored my best points by pretending the ball was Blood’s head. (In the nicest possible way.)
From Adrian Cloete, ‘88: “Even if your mother tells you she loves you, check it out!” This the lesson that I vividly remember from Prof. Blood’s class.
If journalists would follow his advice to verify information from all sources, our profession would be more valued in society.
From Shaya Tayefe Mohajer, NYU ‘04: Professor Blood taught us to respect our craft and to respect ourselves. He was hard on us, and rightly–the world is hard on journalists and the only defense is excellent work. He pushed us to put in the time and effort to really understand people. He pushed us to step away from lazy, dry presentations of fact and really tell stories. His red pen and the havoc it would wreak on copy was legend, but in the decade since his class, I don’t remember the stories he hated. I still relish memories of stories of mine that he liked. His charm, his wit, and his passion for his students will never be forgotten.
Shaya Tayefe Mohajer
Reporter, The Associated Press, Los Angeles
From Sarah Hughes, NYU ‘97 (freelance journalist, The Guardian, The Independent, The Observer): He was the most inspirational professor I ever had and the funniest. While others were doing their reporting from the classroom he sent us all over the city of New York, helping this confused English girl to understand the city. He was endlessly patient, supportive and committed. Plus I will always remember the first day I filed for him - my copy included the word ‘whilst’ his immediate response: “Miss Hughes, you may come from Jane Austen’s England but you are in New York city now and you will write ‘while’. I’ve followed his advice to this day,
From Paul Schultz, ’89: Professor Blood was fearsome at first blush, but his fierce love of journalism and dedication to his craft and students soon became evident. I am honored to have been one of his students. His critiques of my work were sometimes brutal, but always fair. I have a particularly fond (and loopy) memory regarding Prof. Blood: At holiday time, the J School had a big party, at which we were invited to perform skits. I wrote and performed a skit, where I played Prof. Blood, hamming it up with cotton for eyebrows, berating students in a gruff stentorian tone. It went over well… afterwards Prof. Blood said I had captured his demeanor, but may have missed the love he had for his students. True, it may have been missing from that performance, but it was always clear to me. He was an inspiration.
From Sarah Portlock, Columbia ‘10 & NYU ‘07: I saw the J-school’s blog post on Prof. Blood, and just wanted to thank you guys for posting all this information. I actually knew him from NYU, when he spent four years exhaustively and shamelessly editing and critiquing our studentnewspaper each day, and going over his thoughts — known as “Bloodlines” — every Monday. I worked on the paper, making my way to Editor in Chief, and I will never forget sparring with him over some of his opinions, only to realize later of course, that he was always, always right. As undergraduates, we were likely some of his youngest students, but he always treated our newspaper like a professional operation. We were so lucky to have had that education.
From Dan Sloan, ‘91:
I had the brief pleasure of learning from Prof. Richard Blood in the spring of 1991, and as this was my second semester at Columbia, his reputation preceded him. Still, behind the bluster was an intriguing story that I hoped to coax out in small part for a profile assignment for another class; that is, if the famously testy New England subject would deign to chat with me.
Upon sounding out my intentions fully and setting ground rules not to share this with other students or the public, Blood gave a few windows to get his story that began as if a Eugene O’Neill play, which, if memory serves, matched a poster in his office and may have been how he saw his own early days: troubled family life, time at sea, learning the ropes of life literally on the waves and as a boxer, and then finding the literary - or journalistic - road and ultimately his calling.
He regaled with tales from the Daily News - still a slightly radioactive topic for him then, nights with the rich and famous in the wee hours at P.J. Clarke’s, chasing some of the great stories of the era, and the internal school squabbles of the day - he would joke that the then-Dean wanted her own statue. I laughed, scribbled and nodded, but until this day kept my pledge on not sharing the bio-effort with anyone but my adjunct professor, and ultimately RJB himself.
On completion he asked what my professor thought of the profile, and I replied that he liked it but believed it was too soft on Blood. The white eyebrows raised quickly as if he himself had just been punched, and the former pugilist found his ring legs in a flash, handing my effort back with a cut man’s encouragement and an editor’s bluntness. “Sourcing, Mr. Sloan. Call my son at the AP, he’ll give you what you need.”
I never called his son, nor saw Dick Blood again after graduation, but his story and memory are among the many smiles of that year, now to be retold.
From rlobrian, ‘92: First day of CNS class (Columbia News Service), Blood warned the class, “and remember: I am Professor Blood. I’m not ‘Dick’ or ‘Buddy’ or ‘your old friend Blood,’ I’m Professor Blood!” A second later — literally one second later — Julie Tilsener strolled through the doorway and yelled out “hey, Blood!” The look on Blood’s face —one of surprise and resignation and amusement—-was, as they say, priceless.
From Sarah Jay, ‘92:
I always wanted to bring a tape recorder to RWI to capture his sermons for posterity (and maybe for his biography, which I always thought someone should write), but I never did. Afraid he?d yell at me, but I bet he would have been secretly pleased. That first RWI class was a beautiful thing remember it as a 2 hour lecture/rant with the continual refrain, “there’s the door” but also remember him urging us more bluntly to “Leave! Right now! Get out.” And I remember 2 people slinking out of the room at one point, one of them saying he’d come to the wrong class by mistake.
And what about the way he opened up that first day of RWI? The slip of paper he pulled from his pocket, reading something like the following from a supposed fellow student: “Dear Professor Blood, I am sorry to miss my first day of your class. I am working on a story for [some NYC newspaper] and I am on deadline. I will be in class tomorrow.” Blood folded up the paper and said coldly, “This person will never be in my class.” And so began the 2-hour diatribe that did exactly what it was supposed to do, cementing my loyalty and commitment to him and him alone. He was a terror (on the outside only), and I loved him for it from that first unforgettable day.
“I can be quoted!” - after saying the un-sayable
“She was a little wisp of a thing” - describing some former student or another who accomplished great things after graduating from his class.
From Elinor Burkett, ‘88 (Oscar-winning producer of “Music, By Prudence”):
Even now, at the age of 65 - a quarter century since I left his classroom - I can’t think of him as Dick. Mr. Blood rings more eloquently and conveys the full measure of well-deserved gravitas.
Eloquence and gravitas. That was the essential Blood.
Did you ever receive a letter or email from him and find yourself ready to give up writing because even his most hastily scrawled notes were more fluently eloquent than the story on which you’d just spent two weeks? Did you ever listen in awe as the perfect phrase or the ideal metaphor flowed effortlessly from his mouth? I did, all the time, and was humbled by his gift for language.
And gravitas? I know it is an odd description of a man who reveled in his brusque gruffness, in his un-PC double entendre, in his down-and-dirty tabloid demeanor. But inside the curmudgeonly package lurked a cultured gentleman of the old-school. Unashamed to cling to now neglected values about the dignity of hard work, the honor of candor and the power of truth. His praise was never faint; if you won it – and, oh, how his students longed for it – you knew it was deserved. He refused to suffer fools gladly no matter their station or pretense. He was allergic to sloth and politesse, self-indulgence, self-aggrandizement and artifice. In his hands, truth was an art to be practiced only by the most dogged.
Richard Blood was my hero.
Rest in your own special kind of peace knowing that scores of journalists report with more tenacity, write with greater precision and work with greater commitment to the truth because they’d been Bloodied.
From Roger Williams, ‘93:
(this ran in Florida Weekly, all editions, Feb. 22, 2012: http://www.floridaweekly.com>FloridaWeekly.com)
Promised and delivered: blue-Blood journalism
The liberal media. The conservative media. Corporate or family-owned, print or electronic. Gannett, Bloomberg, Murdoch, Huffington, AP, The New York Times, Florida Weekly. NPR, PBS, CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, Fox. Publishers, editors, reporters, photographers, artists, anchors, advertising executives.
What, exactly, is good journalism in America?
None of that, really.
Instead, it boils down to 6-feet 1-inch of blue-eyed Bean Town ball-buster named Richard Blood.
Although he quit breathing last week in New York City at the age of 83, introductions are now in order. Prof. Blood was and is journalism done right — the engine in the rocket, the seed in the garden.
I learned the craft from Blood two decades ago by running all over his classroom, which started in a cramped, second-floor office above “The World Room” at Columbia University’s School of Journalism.
From there, beginning in the morning and ending late afternoon or evening or in the small hours of the following day, his classroom extended to the five boroughs of New York City.
I will now convey my education to you in a single column at no extra charge, since I already paid the bill.
For $30,000, I got a cute little master’s diploma and this, delivered from an immaculately dressed pit bull — his shoes shined, his trousers and shirt lightly starched, his tie knotted formally under a square jaw, his storm-cloud brows banked over smoldering blue eyes, and all of it crowned in a disciplined cumulus of white hair: “Williams, you can write. But good writing is only as good as the reporting. THE REPORTING, Williams. Work on THE REPORTING.”
Work on the details. Know the facts, the events, the public records, the private behavior, the voices — especially the voices. Listen to what they say, study what they do. It was worth every penny.
Here is blue-Blood journalism stripped down, equipped for any technology, every era and all terrain: Employ good storytelling to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable (as Finley Peter Dunne once said).
Do it accurately, fairly and stylishly, too, pal. In a timely fashion, please.
By 5 p.m.
Blood championed that notion. He’d been a hard-drinking probably hot-tempered city editor for the New York Daily News for years, even editing Jimmy Breslin (gently, he was fond of noting, which didn’t quite square with the evidence at hand). But he’d quit all that to marry a former nun and psychologist who saved him, he once told me. Carol. He had three children.
I remember this, too: Born and raised in Boston, Blood had boxed in the Navy or the Merchant Marines. But the term is weak. He was a brawler by instinct and temperament with an Irish-Catholic conscience, the compulsion to make things better, a fondness for bright, vibrant women, a respect for tough men with humility, and an appreciation for fine language, fine cuisine, and the New York Giants. He also harbored an explosive dislike of bullies, liars, and con artists.
Always, Blood insisted on doing the right thing, a phrase that only later assumed fashionable gravity. He picked about 15 students each semester and showed them what that meant.
Columbia offered a variety of good classes taught by a variety of exceptional professors. I had a class with Anthony Lewis in First Amendment law. I had a class with Roger Rosenblatt in magazine writing. “Roger, this is perfect, there is nothing I can add,” Mr. Rosenblatt once wrote on one of my fancy-schmancy little magazine features.
Prof. Blood, teaching RW1 (Reporting and Writing), never put something that silly on a story. But he did put festive red marks all over it.
At the heart of his class, you wrote eight or so sizzlers from the street, and then you worked with him and a few hand-chosen former students, his assistants, to make the stories better.
You wandered around Harlem — and called in to update Blood. You wandered around the Bronx or Crown Heights during a riot. You wandered around the U.N. during a gabfest. You found a pay phone (remember those?) and you called Blood.
One assignment required you to sit around night court at 100 Centre Street talking to prostitutes, cops, drunks, public defenders, prosecutors, bail bondsmen, bedraggled families. Another put you on a night shift with a couple of New York’s finest. When they found a ripe body in a fifth-floor walk-up, they called their shift sergeant. You called Blood.
He wanted detail — what they wore and carried, what they said, what it looked and smelled like, what happened. He wanted the drama up high, he wanted the language to ring like bells. And he wanted it by deadline.
If you didn’t meet Blood’s deadline or his storytelling par, you got a second chance. Blow that, you were out. That’s what he promised.
On the last night of his class in the late fall of 1992, a few students were still working feverishly in the newsroom to meet his 8 a.m. deadline.
One of his favorites, a cheerful, freckle-faced Boston kid with a Harvard degree, was three stories down at the beginning of the evening.
By dawn he’d completed two. But the third remained a mess of notes, a few starts and stops, and a hell of a long way from a salvageable Blood story. I know, because I tried to help him tie it off, all night long. Even together we failed to pin down that final story. We failed to meet the standard of the class.
At 9 a.m., Prof. Blood called Matt into his office. The young man entered at a near shuffle, pale as a ghost, thin-lipped as a recruit. The rest of us stood in the hallway, mostly mute.
Twenty wrenching minutes crawled by. Matt finally opened the door and stepped out. Speechlessly he turned away from us and disappeared down the hall. We were never to see him again.
It broke everybody’s heart, including Prof. Blood’s. And it characterized an unwavering Blood principle that outraged some administrators, those eyeballing future alumni gifts, no doubt: Stick to the standard.
He did. And he did the right thing by all of us. It’s called blue-Blood journalism.
Promised and delivered.
Note & photo from Savannah Blackwell, ‘92:
Professor Blood Departed 2/17/2012.
Right as the 6 o’clock news (EST) opened. He passed peacefully at St Luke’s Hospital with his eldest son, Michael, holding his hand. Younger son, Chris, and beloved wife, Carol, had been keeping vigil as well. Chris had gone out for a short walk, and Carol had headed back to the West End Ave apt to get a quick bit of rest. To steal a line from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, he was “a hero in the strife.”
(See “A Psalm of Life”)
Below is the Longfellow poem in its entirety.
I had emailed it to Carol on the evening of February 16, and told her that I had shared it with Professor Blood some years ago. He quite liked it — especially the 5th stanza. He said it really captured the spirit of what he was trying to instill in us. I think he mentioned having read it at some point — much, much earlier in his life. It so reminds me of his own ethos — that incredible determination he had to “make a difference,” but with a humble soul.
(Also apropos — the use of the sea-faring and beach metaphors. A sailor himself, he could recount some remarkable tales from his days in the Merchant Marines)
“A Psalm of Life”
Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream! —
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.
Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.
Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way;
But to act, that each tomorrow
Find us farther than today.
Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.
In the world’s broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
Be a hero in the strife!
Trust no future, howe’er pleasant;
Let the dead Past bury its dead!
Act, — act in the living Present!
Heart within, and God o’erhead!
Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time;
Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.
Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.
I’ll try to put together something more coherent once I get off deadline on Monday. (He sure wouldn’t want me to blow that!) but here’s what’s running through my head right now:
The thing about Professor Blood is that he was out to teach you more than the “nuts and bolts” of good reporting. What he was offering was a kind of belief system, or at the very least, a strong doctrinal message. His lectures were like a collection of “Sermons on the Mount,” delivered with the high theater of an Evangelist. However, unlike the typical Fundamentalist minister, his performances were laced with wry, and often self-deprecating, humor. For example, while recounting to us that he “never missed a day of work,” he also recalled, “Well, except for that morning when I got that hernia. There I was, standing at the train station, when “OHHHHHHHHH!!!” And suddenly he dropped downward by the waist — re-enacting the onset of said malady.
The belief system/message boiled down to this: If you “work[ed] your tail off,” if you remembered to “make that last phone call,” if you never settled for just “go[ing] to work [and] keep[ing] a desk warm [in which case you’d “never be anything but a pedestrian reporter”],” then you could “make a difference” in the lives of ordinary citizens. In his eyes, it was a noble call to arms. We were to consider ourselves on a mission, one that jibed more or less with the school motto (”that the people shall know”), to strive to hold accountable the powerful and the entrenched moneyed interests. If, in that way, we worked to do our part to try and even the playing field between the haves and the have-nots, then we would be playing a key role in the democratic process. I’m not sure he ever laid it out that explicitly, but, in a nutshell, the idea was to give the people the information they need to make informed decisions about matters affecting their lives. Oh, and to try not to bore them to death in the process. (”Get the drama up high!”)
Yes, his teachings were laced with hard-core, “boot camp”-type rhetoric. Who can forget the thundering, bone-rattling spiel he went through on the first day of RW1 class?: “Let me tell you, people, you better be ready to work not twice as hard, not three times as hard, not four times as hard, not five times as hard, but SIX TIMES AS HARD as everybody else in this school!!! You gotta problem with that? There’s the door!”
The bottom-line question of the semester (and he meant of our career as well) would be this: “Can you deliver?”
Here are some unforgettable Blood-isms from our RW1 “labs,” where he would re-create news events such as a blizzard hitting the city, or an airplane crash, bellowing tips and passing out actual AP updates (which we had better then incorporate into our copy), while we furiously typed away:
“Don’t bury the lede, people!”
Then a bit, later, while pacing up and down behind us:
“Whaddya think this is, people, the yearbook??? Put the copy in my hand!”
(I think those particular lines were delivered in CNS classes as well)
On “the craft”:
Lay the writing down in “broad strokes,” but “don’t forget the little details. The ones that matter. The ones that tell the story.”
And do it in easily digestible chunks: “Take the reader by the hand.”
As for getting the reticent to talk:
“An interview is a form of a seduction. You gotta sashay around your subject.”
(By way of demonstration and to emphasize his point, he then actually “sashayed” around in a little circle.)
The way he explained it, a reporter working to get a story was not unlike a suitor attempting to woo his/her love object. You had to warm the person up. On the police ride-along assignment, for example, you were not to hop into the back seat of the cop cruiser, lean forward, poke your head through the open part of the plastic or glass panel which separates the officers from the arrestees (and in this case, you, the dopey journalism student) and blurt out: “Hey fellas! Shot anybody lately???”
No, you were to keep your cool, introduce yourself, wait a bit, initiate a little back-and-forth chit chat, and then gently inquire, “Mind if I take a few notes?,” before you reached for your notebook. When it came to the most commonly-used tool of the reporter, and in those situations such as the aforementioned, Professor Blood advised: “Don’t just whip it out!!”
“Don’t just whip it out.” How classic. The double entendre humor was intended, of course. It was, in fact, a clever mnemonic device. He knew how to impart a bit of wisdom in such a way that we couldn’t help but remember it.
So, to “cut to the chase,” (as he would say) as a coach and trainer in the craft, he was without match. It wasn’t just the high quality of the canon he was teaching that was his great gift to us. What made him the very, very best in the field was the extraordinarily high level of energy he put into the delivery, into what really were astonishing bits of theatrical performance. It was his Force of Nature character, his Larger than Life presence, his Star-quality charisma that has made his instruction stay with so many of us for so long. He dedicated himself to us not just for the semester, or for the academic year, but for our lifetimes.
That was the kind of commitment he made to us. Because the thing about Professor Blood, was that for all that fury and bluster, he was all heart. He did want us to hit the high mark, nail that interview, get that scoop that would send us to the front page. He wanted us to be “talked about in hushed tones in the hallway,” and not because we had pieces of toilet paper stuck to our shoes. But the bottom line, really, was that he wanted a show of effort. And like a mother hen fussing over her chicks, he watched us so closely that he generally knew when we were working hard. He knew if you were giving it your best. And if, in his class, you did that more often than not, then he was with you well beyond the duration of your time at the school.
As for me, I have to admit I haven’t made many major decisions in my life without consulting him first. If I was in a slump, or was debating which way to go, just a few words from him (just a “draught of Blood?”) would renew my self-confidence. I think that a number of us saw in him the qualities of a guru, a Yoda-type character (though he sure would bristle at that comparison!), a very accessible sort of shaman, a father to the community: “Papa Blood.”
Let us give him a 10-gun salute.
— Savannah, Class of ‘92
We are continuing to collect tributes to Prof. Blood. If you have something you’d like to share, including favorite memories, quotes, etc, please email them to firstname.lastname@example.org (subject line = Prof. Blood) for inclusion here. As we receive them, we’ll post. If you are an alum, please including your graduation year.