By Azure Wedan
As the crowd steadily filed in, the sound of metal on metal echoed through the lecture hall. The steel ball rolling across the door latch created a metronome-like beat as the room filled to nearly standing room only.
On April 18, Brookhaven College hosted a special panel, “The Turbulent Sixties,” highlighting an era of change in this country and remembering the 50th anniversary of former president John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Veteran journalists Barry Hoffman and Hugh Aynesworth called upon their combined 100 years of experience in investigative reporting, journalism, editing and writing to detail a decade of change.
DeBorah Stephenson, director of Brookhaven’s 50+ program, along with communication professors Daniel Rodrigue and Dr. John Neal, made the arrangements for the event.
Stephenson said the event was the result of nearly three years of discussion and more than eight months of planning. “We want students to understand the importance of journalism and what we are lacking,” Stephenson said.
Stephenson said it was paramount to schedule the event during a time convenient for students to attend. Thanks to history professor Mike Moore, who offered his classroom for the event, the message was delivered in a location adequate for the crowd.
After introductions by Neal, Hoffman took the podium and explained why he and Aynesworth were dependable sources regarding the history of the ’60s. “We have covered just about every major event since the election of John F. Kennedy in 1960 until the present,” Hoffman said.
Hoffman’s résumé includes both broadcast and newspaper journalism.
He has 40 years of experience with wire services, has held top editorial and management positions and is the founding editor of Health Day, the largest daily health news service.
Hoffman emphasized the importance of journalism. He explained that what both he and Aynesworth have done over the years is something many learned at a very young age. Finding the who, what, where, when, why and how: that is journalism. “What that does is translate into us trying to reflect the truth,” Hoffman said.
Aynesworth is the author of seven books, was chief investigative reporter for ABC’s “20/20,” and was elected president of the Dallas Press Club in 2007, where he currently acts as a director.
He was present at and reported on events such as the assassinations of Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., the Branch Davidian fire in Waco and the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.
Hoffman said the ‘60s was the decade that changed America and the world, for better or worse, and influenced where we are today. Both veteran journalists captivated the audience as they shared a few of their stories.
These stories included Aynesworth jumping into a news van after Kennedy’s motorcade sped off to Parkland following the assassination and Hoffman’s experience of teasing The Beatles fans with a cigarette butt belonging to one of the band members outside The Plaza Hotel.
Aynesworth detailed his time and relationships with both Jack Ruby, the man who killed Lee Harvey Oswald, and New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison, positioning himself as an expert on all things Kennedy-assassination- related.
Aynesworth was asked to be a pallbearer for Ruby by his surviving family members, which Aynesworth declined. Although Aynesworth was not assigned to cover the Kennedy visit that day, he was in Dealey Plaza as the motorcade passed.
After Kennedy was shot, Ayensworth jumped into action to get the story.
Brookhaven students Linda Ireland and Vicki Merkler, both in attendance at the lecture, followed Hoffman and Aynesworth to a question-and- answer panel following the event.
Both women excitedly viewed the event as a once-in- a-lifetime opportunity.
They saw how rare the chance was to be around the two journalists who had experienced so much American history.