Will Kirk / Homewoodphoto.jhu.edu
Standing beneath 12-foot-tall slabs of graffiti-covered concrete, Frank Bond ’77 explains journalism’s role in bringing down the Berlin Wall. Whereas people could not travel across the barrier, information could. “As technology advanced,” he says, “it got to a point where the Iron Curtain could not keep the truth from the rest of the world.”
To design the Newseum’s Berlin Wall Gallery, one of the world’s largest displays of a section of the wall, Bond spent more than a year researching Cold War–era Germany, sifting through newsreels and interviewing American and German journalists and activists who had witnessed the wall’s effects firsthand. Working as a producer at the Newseum—a Washington, D.C. museum dedicated to the history of news and journalism, as well as the importance of the First Amendment—has been a “refreshing” change for Bond, a 20-plus-year veteran of TV news reporting.
“I’m using the process of journalism to find out the ‘who, what, where, and how,’” he says. “But the fundamental difference is, rather than asking people the questions they are guarded against answering, rather than asking people to react to huge trauma they have not processed yet, I [find] myself asking people questions they have thought about their whole lives, but no one had ever asked them.”
Bond’s early inspiration for journalism came from an unlikely source: his parents. His mother was a schoolteacher and his father was one of the first black bus drivers employed by the Baltimore Transit Company in the 1950s. Driving a bus gave his father the chance to enter into a world few blacks ever saw at the time, Bond says. “We would eat dinner together every night, and my father would talk about the things he saw and experienced that day, and that was kind of like a nightly news report,” he says. “I could imagine taking my life experience from my mother the teacher and be a teacher of a different sort on the evening news every night, like my father did at the end of the dinner table.”
At Johns Hopkins, Bond majored in social and behavioral sciences. Sociology and psychology gave him a background every good reporter needs: insight on how society works and how people think, feel, and react.
The social upheaval of the 1970s—the civil rights movement, the women’s movement (Bond was around when Hopkins admitted the first female undergraduates), and the anti-war movement—further influenced what kind of journalist he wanted to be. As one of the few black students at Hopkins, Bond realized many Americans still had few relationships that crossed racial lines. He wanted to tell stories that showed people interacting in new ways and revealed new sides to familiar issues.
And that’s what he did. From 1977 to 1999, Bond worked variously as a cameraman and reporter at WBAL in Baltimore; a correspondent for Gannett News Service, which provided broadcast news to 10 TV stations across the country; and a reporter and anchor at WUSA in Washington, D.C. He reported many memorable events—the Challenger space shuttle explosion, Ted Bundy’s execution, the Oliver North trial, Super Bowl games—and he always tried to bring a unique angle to his coverage. While working for WUSA, for instance, the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke. Thinking like a social scientist, he saw the story as an act of betrayal: Linda Tripp divulged Lewinsky’s biggest secret. He took to the streets to see how Washingtonians handled secrets.
He learned true D.C. insiders keep mum. “I work for the government, I have no personal life,” one 20-something told him. “That’s the inside-the-beltway mentality that I wanted to reveal,” Bond says.
But by 1999, the landscape of local TV news was changing. Economic pressures forced news organizations to make choices “based on the bottom line rather than good journalism,” Bond says. Reporters had less freedom to craft original stories. So it wasn’t a hard decision to join the Newseum.
More than 10 years later, journalism is still evolving. To prepare for the Newseum’s New Media Gallery, which opened in April, Bond began exploring how the Internet, Facebook, Twitter, and the like are changing how people find and share information. In many ways, new forms of media make it easier for Americans to exercise their First Amendment rights, he says. But with greater freedom comes greater responsibility.
“Without gatekeepers, there’s all this information out there,” Bond says. “Your responsibility as a news consumer is to be skeptical, to ask questions, to be in charge of the quality of news that you consume, and not be a dupe.”