Former hostage Terry Anderson, who will teach at UF, remains passionate about journalism


Terry Anderson, a former Associated Press journalist who was captured and held hostage for seven-years in the Middle East by Shiite Hezbollah, does an interview from his Gainesville, Fla., apartment Tuesday, April 29, 2014. Anderson will teach an international journalism course at the University of Florida in the fall.

Doug Finger/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Saturday, May 3, 2014 at 7:59 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, May 3, 2014 at 7:59 p.m.

Terry Anderson is still settling into his new home in Hidden Village and getting to know the lay of the land.

He's getting to know his neighbors and has discovered the local Trader Joe's and Ward's — Gainesville's long-time independent grocery store.

Three weeks after moving up from South Florida, where he was doing consulting work for a startup company, Anderson has just gotten around to hanging pictures on the walls. He hasn't had a chance to put his office together, though the computer is up and running.

This is where he spends a good deal of his time — monitoring the news, humanitarian and diversity websites he has bookmarked, following international journalists thrown into prison, and staying in touch via Skype and various social media with his far-flung family and friends around the world.

Even in semi-retirement at the age of 66, there is a restless agitation to this once globe-trotting correspondent for The Associated Press. Nearly 50 years after he began his career, Anderson is still plugged in — through his involvement with the Committee to Protect Journalists and by teaching college journalism.

Not even spending seven years as a captive of the Shiite Hezbollah in Lebanon could dampen his enthusiasm for his chosen profession.

"I am still passionate about journalism," Anderson said. "Being held in captivity didn't change that."

Anderson, who was the AP's chief Middle East correspondent when he was kidnapped off the streets of Beirut in 1985, will teach a course in international journalism at the University of Florida in the fall and possibly another class in the future.

"We're really excited," said Diane McFarlin, dean of the College of Journalism and Communications. "He reached out to me when he was considering moving to Gainesville and wondered if there was an opportunity to teach. I said, 'Of course. We'd be thrilled to have him.'?"

Anderson said he had read that Gainesville was one of the top 10 cities to retire to, but he still wanted to stay involved. He liked teaching, which he'd been doing off and on since returning from the Middle East in the early '90s, so he contacted Department of Journalism Chairman Wayne Wanta to see if there was a need.

"We're so pleased," McFarlin said. "Terry has a first-person perspective of the Mideast, and a broad perspective, thoughtful about the role of journalism today."

Anderson started his career as a journalist with the U.S. Marine Corps for six years. After leaving the military in 1970, he worked at a small TV station in Iowa while attending Iowa State University, receiving dual degrees in journalism and political science in 1974.

He joined The Associated Press, serving in Japan and South Africa before getting assigned to the Middle East bureau in 1983.

After his capture in March 1985 and release in December 1991, he never practiced journalism again. He received treatment to help him cope with his ordeal, but it was years before he could acknowledge the damage that being held hostage had done.

"It takes as long to recover as the time you spent in prison," Anderson said.

Since then, he said, he often has wondered how much of his personality was formed by his ordeal in captivity and how much had always been there. "It was a part of my life, and it always is going to be," he said.

While he knows his obituary likely will lead off with his captivity, Anderson said he'd like to be known for the years he's dedicated to teaching, the 48 schools he helped to build in Vietnam (where he did two tours of duty as a Marine) and for his work advocating for journalistic freedom.

Over the past two decades, Anderson has taught at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University, the University of Kentucky and the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University.

For the past 20 years, he also has been involved with the Committee to Protect Journalists, an independent, nonprofit watchdog group that promotes freedom of the press worldwide, monitors violence against journalists and "takes action whenever a journalist is attacked, imprisoned, killed, kidnapped, threatened, censored or harassed."

Anderson has negotiated for the release of imprisoned journalists, and he is currently the organization's honorary chairman. He said the Committee to Protect Journalists is the authority on captured and killed journalists around the world.

"Journalism is more dangerous now than ever, particularly for the local journalists," he said. "We just lost a very famous AP photographer (Anja Niedringhaus), who was shot in her car (in Afghanistan)."

What scares Anderson is that, these days, journalists are targeted for death more and more; they are not just incidental casualties. "Countries are killing with impunity," Anderson said.

A free press is important because you cannot have a free society without a free press, he said. And he said he's worried about the U.S. government increasingly going after journalists who are reporting leaked materials, threatening to indict reporters who won't give up their sources.

"Our job is simple but difficult to execute," Anderson said.

Anderson has spent his post-captivity years at other trades. He's tried his hand at running a restaurant, owning a blues bar and raising horses. He said he has more injuries from raising horses than he sustained during his time in captivity.

These days, Anderson is content to raise two dogs he got from Helping Hands.

A self-professed foodie, Anderson also has scoped out where to find the good groceries — the local Trader Joe's and Ward's.

He's also visited the local farmers markets.

"I like to cook, and I like to use natural foods," said Anderson, who showed off his row of cookbooks on a table under the kitchen pass-through counter. Julia Child. "Beard on Food." "The Joy of Cooking." "Obviously, I love to eat," he said, acknowledging the weight he has gained over the past two decades.

Anderson is excited about getting back into the classroom in the fall. He said he enjoys teaching the next generation of journalists, sharing his experiences with them and bringing some famous journalism friends such as Christiane Amanpour of CNN into the classroom via Skype.

"I'm not fearful for the future of journalism," he said. "We are not in trouble because I know what's coming. These young people are coming."

These students have grown up with the Web and know how to use it, he said. One class called him out for not being on Twitter, which led to a good discussion about the role Twitter has played in world news — including the Egyptian revolution and the Turkish riots.

"They're constantly wired into the world," he said. "It's how they get their news."

He talks with students about how storytelling has changed as a result of the technology.

"Legacy journalism tells stories serially, linearly," Anderson said. "If you know how to use the Web, you are telling stories in a non-linear, complex, interconnected way."

With so much information on the Internet, Anderson said he feels a responsibility to teach students how to verify the information — to check, compare and test what they read.

"They're going to have to learn to live with the Web," Anderson said. "They are the first generation to grow up with all the information in the world literally at their fingertips."

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