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Robert Giles, Oral History
Recorded: May 4, 2019
Interviewed by Kathleen Siebert Medicus
Transcribed by the Kent State University Research and Evaluation Bureau
[Note: a documentary film crew was also in the room filming this oral history interview; they can be heard in the background, particularly towards the end of the interview]
[Interviewer]: This is Kathleen Siebert Medicus speaking on May 4, 2019, at Kent State University Special Collections and Archives. As part of the Kent State University Shootings Oral History Project, I will be talking today with Mr. Robert Giles. Thank you for joining us.
[Robert Giles]: You’re very welcome.
[Interviewer]: Thank you for being here. I’d like to start by just asking you very brief information about your background. Where were you born? Where you grew up, went to college, studied journalism? Thank you.
[Robert Giles]: I was born in Cleveland, Ohio and raised there. I went to DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana. My choice of DePauw was influenced [unintelligible] to avoid the draft during the Korean War. I graduated from DePauw in 1955. I was editor of the school paper and I was able to gain admission to the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia in New York City. That’s a one-year master’s program. After Columbia, I had an obligation for the draft and I served two years in the U.S. Army. I was fortunate to have been stationed at Fort Monroe, Virginia, where I worked in a public information office and wrote speeches and hometown news releases and so on. Also worked for a local newspaper in Newport News.
After I left the army—discharged—I went to the Akron Beacon Journal as a beginning reporter and I covered towns like Tallmadge and Mogadore and Stow and so on, on the state desk at the Beacon Journal. I worked my way up in a number of reporting jobs, including covering labor and City Hall. In 1963, I had an opportunity to work on the editorial page of the Beacon Journal. I did that for a year and a half. And then I decided I wanted to apply and compete for a Nieman Fellowship at Harvard and I was successful. And so, the academic year 1965 and ‘66, I was at Harvard as a Nieman Fellow. While I was at Harvard, my boss, the executive editor, named Ben Maidenburg, said to me, “If you ever want to run this newspaper, you have to get off the editorial page and get into editing.” So, I thought about it while I was in Cambridge and I sent him a note and said, “Yes, I’d like to take you up on that.”
So, the year wound around. Close to the time when the Nieman year was over, news came that the city editor was leaving the paper. My expectation had been that I would go back as assistant city editor. So, I came back as city editor, and it was a very difficult introduction to the details and the challenges of being an editor, directing the work of others, and so on. And I did that for several years and rose again to become the managing editor. So, in May of 1970, I was managing editor of the Akron Beacon Journal.
A couple of notes about the time after the Beacon Journal. I left the paper in 1975, looking for new opportunity. Went to the University of Kansas to teach on a grant. Then I went to the Rochester, New York, newspapers, The Times-Union and Democrat and Chronicle, as editor. Then to The Detroit News, as editor, and I was there for eleven years. Then, in 2000, I was invited to go to Harvard to be the curator of the Nieman Fellowship program. That was my last working assignment before full retirement.
[Interviewer]: Before you retired.
[Robert Giles]: Been living in Traverse City, Michigan, since then.
But in 1970, I was managing editor of the paper and, as fortune would have had it, my boss, Ben Maidenburg, left a few days before May 4th on a junket to Israel with some other business people in the community. And he said to me, “You’re in charge. Don’t screw it up.”
So, you know on May—well, leading up to May 4th, I was in full control of the newsroom and heavily involved in all the coverage.
[Interviewer]: So, where do you want to start telling that story when—when did the news first—
[Robert Giles]: Well, I would like to begin by talking about the Beacon Journal’s commitment to covering Kent State.
[Robert Giles]: Kent State campus is twelve miles from the Beacon Journal newsroom. We considered it part of our local suburban coverage, but we also covered the university. And the university’s coverage came off the state desk. And the state desk editor was a man named Pat Englehart. He’ll be familiar to many people who are familiar with our coverage.
Pat lived in Mogadore. He was an old-fashioned newspaper editor. He was gruff, but a great mentor. Developed a lot of our young reporters into really fine journalists. And he had an intense interest in what was happening here during the time of the SDS uprising and other things that went on on this campus: the disturbances related to the Oakland Police Department recruiters, and so on. We just kept an eye on it. We had running stories throughout the spring of 1970.
The weekend of May 4th, the precipitating incident, from a journalistic point of view, was President Nixon’s speech on Thursday, October 30th, about the invasion of Cambodia. We had—we covered the speech very well. The Beacon Journal, in those days, had a Washington bureau and we were part of Knight Newspapers’ Washington bureau. So, we had a lot of very experienced reporters to draw on. We had a story on Friday about the burning—or the burying of the Constitution on The Commons and then we covered the ruckus on Water Street, where they trashed the bars and did other things that were—
[Interviewer]: That same day, that night—
[Robert Giles]: —were very destructive, yes. So, we were just well prepared to do this. We had people there. We had photographers there. And, as the weekend moved along, we were able to give our readers a pretty good understanding of the conflict that was emerging here. On the Saturday paper, we had photographs and good detail and good coverage about the burning of the ROTC Building. Then, when the National Guard showed up and the governor showed up, we had details of that and photographs, [unintelligible] stories, and so on. Somewhat in the context of Kent was simply part of a nationwide series of demonstrations about Nixon’s speech and the anti-Vietnam War, people being against the draft, and so on. We were here to cover the arrival of the Governor, Jim Rhodes, and to record the ugly things he said about the students.
Then on Monday, May the 4th, we were unsure about whether the scheduled rally was going to take place and we had two photographers and a single reporter on the campus because we didn’t anticipate that there would be anything unusual. In fact, we weren’t sure that the governor’s orders to the National Guard—there will be no gathering, peaceful or otherwise, permitted on the campus on Monday. So, we had a young reporter named Jeff Sallot, who was a Kent State journalism student and who worked for us. He was the reporter on campus. And one of the photographers also was a student, a man named Paul Tople. During the morning, Jeff and Pat Englehart, the state editor, kept talking to one another about whether the rally was going to take place. Jeff’s view was that because it was—the other demonstrations had taken place in darkness, at night: the riots on Water Street, the burning of the ROTC Building, the confrontation on Sunday night with the Guard. That was all under darkness, so to speak.
So, this was going to take place at noon on a sunny day, in the light. And so, we thought it would go ahead and it would be peaceful. And then, the confrontation began to unfold and the Guard started to move the students away from The Commons and past the Victory Bell. And Jeff was there and observing all this and he needed to keep in touch with the state desk, with Pat Englehart, while all this was going on.
[Interviewer]: System crash—
[Robert Giles]: —too much. People calling in wanting to know about their kids and what have you. And we had the only open phone line, that Mrs. Brown was hanging on to.
[Interviewer]: So, because that line was open and still connected, it was good?
[Robert Giles]: Yeah so—it was good. Jeff gave an eyewitness description of all that was going on and then he’d have her hold the phone line and go out and see if he could interview some survivors and what have you. So, that’s how we got a head start on this story at the Beacon Journal. And throughout the afternoon—well, then because the phone lines were down, we knew that we had this opportunity to get ahead on the story. But the fact was that we couldn’t really communicate on campus. So, we were able to borrow a phone car, I mean, if you can imagine a phone car in 1970.
We were able to borrow a phone car from Ohio Bell and we sent the city editor out. A man named Ron Clark and he set up a city desk on The Commons. And all our reporters—we sent fifteen reporters out there after the shooting and he organized them. And they were trying to interview Guardsmen and interview students who were leaving because the school was being closed, and other things. So, we were able to coordinate our coverage through a phone line from the Beacon Journal newsroom to the phone car. So, that’s really how we got so much blanket coverage of what was going on and so that was at the center of our coverage that day.
[Interviewer]: That’s amazing. How long did the car with the phone stay there, while you were on campus?
[Robert Giles]: The campus was closing down and, as all the students were gone and the Guard had gone back to a bivouac area, there was no reason to stay there. So, Ron Clark drove back to Akron and, from the city desk, he gathered then all of the notes and information that had been phoned in by the people in the field that were reporters in the field. And he wrote the main story with contributions from lots and lots of people in the field. So, he—when we had eight pages in the paper on May the 5th, and then lots of photographs and—
[Interviewer]: You probably didn’t go home that night, I’m guessing?
[Robert Giles]: No, there was a lot of all-nighters pulled at the Beacon Journal in those days, that’s for sure. So, we had a very strong second day coverage.
We were able to get by on the last edition on May the 4th. The last edition being what we called the night final—it was, in those days, you could get the closing stock prices at four-thirty in your newspaper and we published an edition. So, we just held the press and expanded a little bit. We had a very fundamentally solid paper with the names of all the victims, including the wounded.
[Interviewer]: On that day? On Monday, May 4th?
[Robert Giles]: Run that day. Now, one of the critical elements that we were faced with—I was faced with, as the editor in charge—was that the newspapers, the news organizations, in those days relied on two wire services: The Associated Press and the United Press International. As the story was breaking, four students shot, the AP reported, and they were actually getting information from us. So, we had four dead and nine wounded. United Press International, through a misunderstanding of what was being said by the Guard and the communications office at Kent State, had the misimpression, that yes, there were four dead, but two of them were Guardsmen and two of them were students. And that story—then UPI put that story out.
[Interviewer]: Oh boy.
[Robert Giles]: But he did—so, Pat Englehart turned to me and said, “What do we do?” And I said, “Well, we go with our reporter.” He’s been there, and so on. So, we went with it. The correct story: four dead, it was students dead. And the other papers and radio stations around Ohio that relied on the United Press International, including the Record-Courier, went with two dead Guardsmen and two dead students. That was a major dramatic decision that had to be made on deadline and under great pressure.
Then we had a full-page—full newspaper coverage on the 5th, of course. But then, we began to develop some stories that—in which our reporting was original and exclusive. That sort of set a framework for—a truthful framework of what happened and the first of those was some interviews with National Guard soldiers, who said to our reporters, “I didn’t think my life was in danger and I didn’t feel badly threatened by the students, so I didn’t shoot my rifle.” That was beginning to establish the reality that the students had not threatened the Guardsmen in a way that they deserved to be shot at. And that’s been a theme that’s gone through all of the coverage since then.
I’d like to talk for a minute about—do you have any more questions?
[Interviewer]: No, no.
[Robert Giles]: I’d like to talk for a minute about Governor Rhodes, who was an unhealthy—I’m calling him an unhealthy force during this time. He came to Kent on Sunday morning. One of the early things he did—he took a little tour and then he held a press conference and he had a statement. And his statement was vigorous in its denunciation of the students. He called them the worst thing that we have in America, compared them to Nazi Brown Shirts, and other really incendiary comments.
[Interviewer]: The very next day, yeah.
[Robert Giles]: And there were a lot of people who thought that Rhodes’ behavior at Kent State was to play to his base: his conservative, hawkish-war, and anti-student voters. And that it apparently had some effect in the voting because it was a very close election, only like 3,000 votes that—and that Taft, Bob Taft, had been well ahead before that.
So, Rhodes has the unhappy distinction of having had a very unsavory influence on the atmosphere on the campus and the fact that the Guardsmen were in a position where they felt they had the freedom to shoot at the students. He had said that there would be no gathering, peaceful or otherwise, on Monday morning and somebody asked—some reporter asked him, “Well, what’s a gathering?” And he said, “Any two students walking together.” So, the Guard felt under pressure to really disperse the students.
And so, in fact, they—there are a lot of people who feel they had successfully done that. Because if you track the movement of the troops: they chased the students up The Commons past the Victory Bell, and then the students, they split in two and they went down to the practice field, and then they came back up and the Guard commander later said, “Well, we thought we had dispersed them. So, we were just marching back towards our bivouac area, which was near the burned-out ROTC Building.” And then, they got up by the pagoda, by Taylor Hall, and they turned and shot. Now, the question has always been: was there an order to fire or some other conspiracy among the Guardsmen? There’s just no evidence. A lot of coverage has been focused on that. We’ve reported the controversy, but we stayed away from drawing any conclusions about that sort of thing.
One of the—then there was the question of whether there was a sniper. And one of the—after the shooting, people started pointing to a bullet hole in the metal sculpture by Don Drumm. And the way the sculpture—the bullet had entered and exited from the sculpture—indicated to the untrained eye that the bullet had come from somewhere [and traveled] towards the Guard. Because they—it was a clean entry hole away from the Guard and this fuzzy metal towards the Guard. They said, “Well, it’s the bullet comes in and leaves a clean hole and fuzz is going out.” So, we thought we’d investigate that and we got a piece of metal, some [unintelligible] metal.
[Interviewer]: Experimental investigation.
[Robert Giles]: We went out into a field in Mogadore and had an M1 rifle and we fired some bullets into it, and it flipped the argument. Because when the bullet goes in, it fuzzes, it leaves the fuzzy edging. And, as it exits, it’s a clean hole. And we ran that story and it pretty well dismissed the accusations that there was sniper and some of the Guard commanders who insisted early on that yes, there had been a—they thought there was a sniper. They didn’t have any evidence of that. There was no sightings and no other evidence. So, our investigation and the result of it became the narrative. Part of the narrative that said there was no sniper—that has carried all the way through.
[Interviewer]: When was that? The experimenting with the M1 rifle and the metal?
[Robert Giles]: That happened on—
[Interviewer]: In the summer or?
[Robert Giles]: No, it happened about three days later.
[Interviewer]: Oh, very soon.
[Robert Giles]: Very soon. We ran it in the Sunday paper following May 4th.
[Interviewer]: Okay, okay.
[Robert Giles]: And so, we quickly got ahead of the story with our results of our investigation.
[Interviewer]: Yeah. Wow.
[Robert Giles]: So then, I should talk about the—let’s see, the FBI report. There were a number of investigations underway. Some of them for coming grand juries or the president’s commission. He had—President Nixon had named a commission to investigate campus unrest. This would include Jackson State as well as Kent State. It was headed by former Governor of Pennsylvania, Bill Scranton.
In preparation for a grand jury, apparently, a copy of the—of a summary of what the FBI had found was sent to Ron Kane, county prosecutor here. And soon after he got it, a very veteran reporter from the Beacon Journal named Ray Redmond was in his office talking to him. Ray had covered Portage County for years, and Kane showed him this piece of paper with the finding of—the so-called findings of the National Guard and then the phone rang. And Kane kept talking and talking and Ray Redmond kept reading and reading, until he memorized. He said, “You can’t have this.” So, he memorized what was on it and then, after the phone call, he gave the paper back and he ran outside and wrote down everything he could remember. Then he called me in Akron and said, “This what I have.” And I said, “Well, come on in. We’ll write it.”
But that became—the FBI report became sort of the standard definition of what happened. It was unusual, particularly because here you had a major federal investigative agency finding fault with a federal military organization, the Ohio National Guard. That was very unusual in those days. And so, but that story has held up, and it became part of our narrative of what happened. And so, as time went on, we could say that the governor had a big responsibility for his behavior in how it affected the ultimate decision to shoot at the students by the National Guard. And the fact that soldiers were saying, “We weren’t—didn’t feel like we were under danger,” leads to dismissal of the idea that there was a sniper. And then, the FBI reports, those were all things that became major parts of our narrative—truthful narrative, that shaped our coverage and that has stood up. I mean, if you go back and look at all the conclusions about May 4th, those things were all major factors and they were all disclosed by the Beacon Journal.
[Interviewer]: Thank you for all that work, at that time. I’m curious, for you personally, what those days were like. You were pulling all-nighters. These things were breaking really quickly. There was a lot of pressure. I don’t know if you’d be willing to talk about what it was like to be in your shoes, during those days?
[Robert Giles]: Well, it’s—there are a couple of ways to talk about that. First is that this was a new experience for me. I had not been managing editor very long and I knew that, with my top editor out of the country, you know, there was really a lot of pressure on me to get things done right. It’s hard for some people to understand that, in a big story like this, you’re so focused on the story and you are so enamored by the power of your ability to direct the reporting and so on that—it’s not fun, because it was a very tragic thing and our people were, you know, upset, as anybody would be—but, the opportunity to shape a narrative and to have your newspaper seen as doing the best coverage, is a really motivating force. And that’s part of what—and we—Pat Englehart kept pushing his reporters to get more new stuff, to get more interviews, to get more things that would make a difference in our coverage and our people responded dramatically.
I mean, I didn’t stay all night every night, but there were a couple of nights where I was. But one of the things that did happen in my home life is that I began to get, almost every evening, a telephone call from Arthur Krause, Allison Krause’s father. And these were just moments where I could listen to him and he was—he had been, by reputation, opposed to his daughter’s anti-war feelings and he had deep grief about her death and he was angry, almost in a rage about the governor, and he wanted the legal systems to focus in on the behavior of the National Guard commanders and the governor’s. I listened to that, you know, night after night, and we talked. I gave him, you know, I just listened to him. He wanted somebody to talk to and so, there I was.
So that was one personal experience. And then another part of what I was—feedback I was getting. There is a man, who’s probably known around here pretty well now, named Peter Davies. He’s written a book about what happened at Kent State. He was, I think, connected with the United Methodist Church. Peter would send me long, single-spaced letters that would talk about the conspiracy he saw, and so on. I wrote him back some letters. In fact, in doing some research for my book, I found out that Peter’s files are in the Yale Library and so we went to New Haven and I got copies of those, which I have to sort through and write that chapter yet. Anyhow, he was another person who was frequently in contact with me.
And you know, one of the challenges for me was to make sure that people got some rest. They all wanted to keep going, but I knew that fatigue can lead to mistakes. And so, we made sure that people were sort of forced to have time off and so on.
[Interviewer]: Eat dinner.
[Robert Giles]: And you know, in those days, newspapers did not do stress counseling. You were on your own. You suffered and you grieved in your own ways. Nobody did that, right.
[Interviewer]: Nobody did that kind of counseling, right. I was thinking about the reporter who you said was a student, a journalism student at the time, Jeff Sallot. He must have been afraid that day. I mean that must have been really shocking and terrifying.
[Robert Giles]: Well, he was on overdrive throughout most of the day and then he acknowledges that, towards the end of the day, he just sort of didn’t know where he was. He said, “I really felt out of it.” Even though, some other people saw him interviewing students and interviewing troops. He just—the emotion had sort of overcome him. There we have—there’s some people who remain alive on the staff, who simply won’t talk about it. It’s the same sort of battlefield hangover that troops in war say, “I won’t talk about my experience in World War II.”
[Interviewer]: Yeah, yeah. Absolutely. Is there anything else from those days you’d like to share, that you can think of? Any other memories?
[Robert Giles]: I’ll have to say it was the most significant journalist experience in my long newspaper career. And I—you asked me how I was feeling about—at the moment. And one of the things I discovered about myself was that I liked being in charge. I liked knowing that I could depend on my own judgement and my own values and that that could make a difference in behalf of our quest for a truthful account. Obviously, we wanted to be on top of the story. We wanted other people to look to us as having the most complete version of the truth. And we had been trained by Jack Knight and Ben Maidenburg that accuracy and fairness were very, very important. They were all prepared to carry out this difficult assignment with that in mind. We did not speculate in covering the story. We didn’t speculate about snipers or—we reported other people talking about snipers, and so on.
I guess one of the things that I didn’t mention in the chronology of what happened on May 4th was that we had another young reporter, named Bob Page, who we sent out to Robinson Memorial Hospital, where the victims were coming. And this was early in the afternoon and he was able to identify the dead and the wounded through the nursing staff and doctors, and so on. And we had, let’s see—he got to the hospital and it was—the doors were locked because all the victims had gone in. Then, somebody—oh, there was a group of students who were sort of outside trying to get in to see their loved ones. So, because of the noise and the disturbance they were making, the two guards came over to deal with them and left the door open and our guy went in.
And then he was able to—he found a nurse that was willing to help him, who had a good feeling about the newspaper, so she took him into the doctors who had just pulled the sheets over the four dead students and so we got names well ahead of anybody else because they didn’t have a press conference until seven-thirty at night. And we needed the information by four o’clock and we got it. Because of his initiative and enterprise, we were able to identify the victims in our last edition on May 4th—carried all that information. Meanwhile, other reporters who were waiting around in the conference room for a press conference, had to wait until seven o’clock.
[Interviewer]: Was there—your boss was out of the country. Could you talk to him? Was there someone you could consult with if you needed to when you making decisions?
[Robert Giles]: No. I was—
[Interviewer]: It was trial by fire for you—
[Robert Giles]: It was a trial by fire, yeah. He left me some information about how to reach him through his secretary. And she sent him a telegram, or some kind of a wire. So, he knew what was going on, but I was—I liked being on my own.
[Interviewer]: Yeah. Thank you so much.
[Robert Giles]: You’re welcome. Anything else you’d like to know?
[Interviewer]: Do you—was Chuck Ayers working also at the Beacon Journal at that time? Do you remember?
[Robert Giles]: Chuck was on the spot that day. He was a student, as many of our people were. His strength was he was an artist, as you know. And so, he came back, he was on the campus then. He came back and they asked him—well, they interviewed him in the newsroom about what you saw and how you felt, and so on. And then, he sat down and he made six sketches of what he remembered seeing and we ran those in the paper on May the 5th, on the local news front. They’re really quite—quite well done.
[Interviewer]: He has an amazing talent.
[Robert Giles]: Yeah, he does. He really does. He’s done some other drawings about Kent State since then, I believe.
[Interviewer]: He has, yeah. I spoke with a woman the other day who saw—in her memory and she was fourteen at the time, so, she had admitted maybe it’s an exaggerated memory—but she was driving with her father on Highway 76 and saw dozens, if not hundreds, of Kent State students holding signs with the town where they were trying to get, trying to get home: Pittsburgh, Columbus, Dayton.
[Robert Giles]: Yeah. That’s after they closed the campus.
[Interviewer]: After the campus closed. Did you see any of that or did any of your reporters? Do you remember?
[Robert Giles]: I think—well, one of the things that we saw and there was a bus being loaded to go up to Shaker Heights. And they—a hundred or so kids got on that. They reported on that. I can’t remember exactly about individual students seeing kids with signs for Pittsburgh and what have you. But clearly, they all wanted to get off the campus.
[Interviewer]: And were trying to get home before dark.
[Robert Giles]: Yeah, yeah. True, yeah.
[Interviewer]: And you were in the newsroom. You were—probably didn’t see the light of day, for a while that day.
[Robert Giles]: That’s true, yeah.
[Interviewer]: Did you, did the Beacon Journal—there must have been a relationship between the newspaper and the journalism program at Kent State, where you were employing students, you were hiring students, while they were still—?
[Robert Giles]: We were, yes. We had a number of—it was almost like a training ground for us because it was the nearest big journalism school to Akron and we thought the quality of the students was very high and so a number of their graduates came to work for us. That was just a very nice relationship.
[Interviewer]: I’ve always been struck by how many photographs there are from that day. I mean, now everyone has cell phones, but back then, that wasn’t the case.
[Robert Giles]: That’s true. And you have to think about, wow, what would it have been like if you had cell phones and social media been in play on that day. And the story would be totally different.
[Interviewer]: It’s interesting to think about how things might be different. But I know part of the reason there are so many photographs is there were—Taylor Hall was right there, the School of Journalism. You had whole classes of photojournalism students that were sent out with their cameras.
[Robert Giles]: True. Well, three of the most important photographers were journalism students. John Filo, who took the dramatic photograph of Jeff Miller; John Darnell, who took a picture, who got the picture of the Guard under the pagoda with their—pointing their weapons; and then a guy named Howard Ruffner, who had the photograph of—being around John Cleary, a wounded student, sort of lying on a little hill. That picture was on the front of Life magazine.
So, yeah, they all contributed. They also—the collective influence of their photographs, those three photographs, plus one taken by our photographer, Don Roese—that’s R-o-e-s-e—demonstrated that the students were not pressing on the Guard. These were all pictures of seminal moments where the protesters were sort of apart from the Guard. The one picture that—another picture, it was one of the two pictures that John Filo took, showing a student with a flag, black flag, out near the football practice field. That was Alan Canfora, who later got wounded. But, it was such evidence that there were no kids around and the Guards were right there by the fence trying to figure out what to do.
[Interviewer]: I’ve often wondered how things would have been different if that practice field had not—were not fenced in. If the students, when they got over the hill and were in that field—I mean, we can speculate all day about things like that.
[Robert Giles]: Yeah, that could have been a big difference. I mean, they got down there and they realized they were trapped. What do we do?
[Interviewer]: Well, I don’t think I have any other questions right now. I want to thank you again so much.
[Robert Giles]: You’re very welcome. I’m happy to do it. I hope it’s helpful.
[Interviewer]: For sharing all this. Really—this is very helpful. I think a really important part of the Oral History Project. Thank you so much!
[Robert Giles]: Well, good. I’m glad to be able to contribute.
There were, when we put our—submitted our application or our entry into the Pulitzer. There were fifteen people we identified as having had major contributions, major impact on our coverage. And so, each of those fifteen individuals—
[brief interruption from the film crew]
—in the language of prizes, shared in the Pulitzer. So, people began to refer to me, and the others, as a Pulitzer Prize winner. And so, okay, that’s fine with me. So, when we moved to the University of Kansas, I was teaching on a grant as what you call a professional in residence. I sort of—people started referring to it, you know, “Oh, he’s won a Pulitzer Prize.” That sort of follows you around. It sort of helped make possible, in my view, further steps in my career. For example, when I was in Rochester, that paper was owned by the Gannett Company. So, I was considered to be sort of the, in terms of experience, stature, et cetera, I was considered to be one of the leading editors of all—among all the Gannett papers—which then helped me. I was active in a number of professional organizations in the newspaper business. There’s American Society of Newspaper Editors, and Associated Press Managing Editors. And I got to be president of each of those organizations. So, that was all—I mean, I wasn’t always throwing “I won a Pulitzer Prize” around, but that was sort of somehow attached to me.
Then, during my Nieman time, that was part of how I was known. And even in my current state, in Traverse City, I’m involved in a couple of organizations that are—well, one’s called the International Affairs Forum. We bring in speakers who are—have international experience to the community. Another is the National Writers Series, we bring authors in for conversation. They’re big events. They draw four and five hundred people. I have sort of put my Rolodex together—to work. And so, several of my Nieman Fellows have come to speak, to put on programs and so, somehow, the fact that I had shared in this Pulitzer Prize, somehow, it gets mentioned or I’m identified by it. I don’t—it’s okay. I’ve had a very satisfying career, in spite of—let’s say in spite of the Pulitzers.
[Interviewer]: Do you—you’ve told your story, I’m sure, many, many times about your experience reporting the Kent State shooting stories, and coordinating all of the reporting at the Beacon Journal. I’m sure you’ve told this story you told me at many venues and people are always curious.
[Robert Giles]: Yes, in various ways. I sort of go by the editorial that the Beacon-Journal published the day after we won the Pulitzer, which was, the headline on it was: “The Pulitzer We Wish We Didn’t Have to Win.” That’s sort of how I feel about it. It was a tragic event and it affected so many lives and took away so many lives.
[Interviewer]: And continues to affect so many lives.
[Robert Giles]: Right. So, that’s—I’m quite impressed with the way Kent State has finally risen to respect the meaning of the Kent State Shootings.
[Interviewer]: Well, thank you so much.
[Robert Giles]: You’re very welcome.
[Interviewer]: Again, thank you. We’ll end there. Thanks.
Journalist in 1970
|Date of Interview||
Robert Giles was the managing editor of the Beacon Journal newspaper in Akron, Ohio, in 1970. The editor, Ben Maidenburg, was out of the country at the time and Mr. Giles found himself in charge of the entire newsroom and heavily involved in the coverage of the Kent State Shootings. He relates the story of how their paper produced accurate reporting of the events surrounding the shootings; the Beacon Journal was the only news outlet in the area to provide a correct report, published on that day, May 4, about who the victims actually were. He discusses the personal side of that work, including the Pulitzer Prize that he and his team were awarded for their coverage of the events.
|Length of Interview||
|Time Period discussed||
Akron Beacon Journal
Ayers, Chuck (Charles W.)
Davies, Peter, 1931-
Drumm, Don, 1935-. Solar Totem #1
Evacuation of civilians--Ohio--Kent
Journalism--Study and teaching--Ohio--Kent
Kent State Shootings, Kent, Ohio, 1970
Kent State Shootings, Kent, Ohio, 1970--Photographs
Kent State Shootings, Kent, Ohio, 1970--Press coverage
Kent State University. Commons
Kent State University. Taylor Hall
Ohio. Army National Guard
Rhodes, James A. (James Allen), 1909-2001
Robinson Memorial Hospital (Ravenna, Ohio)
Sallot, Jeff, 1947-
Special Collections and Archives
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Kent State University
|DPLA Rights Statement||
|Format of Original||
audio digital file
The content of oral history interviews, written narratives and commentaries is personal and interpretive in nature, relying on memories, experiences, perceptions, and opinions of individuals. They do not represent the policy, views or official history of Kent State University and the University makes no assertions about the veracity of statements made by individuals participating in the project. Users are urged to independently corroborate and further research the factual elements of these narratives especially in works of scholarship and journalism based in whole or in part upon the narratives shared in the May 4 Collection and the Kent State Shootings Oral History Project.
May 4 Collection