AJR  Columns :     ABOVE THE FOLD    
From AJR,   June/July 2008

End of Story   

Saying farewell to the world of journalism

By Thomas Kunkel
Thomas Kunkel (editor@ajr.umd.edu), president of AJR, is dean of the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland.     

Thank you, Bill Burleigh. You were managing editor of the Evansville Press in Indiana when I was maybe 14 and wrote you to say the only thing that could possibly make your weekly teen page better was a teenage book reviewer. Instead of dropping my note into the circular file, you called me in for an honest-to-goodness interview and treated me like a person, not a kid. I never forgot that.

Thank you, Bill Fluty. You assigned me my first "story" a three-graph rewrite of a press release about a local speedway. You had it set unchanged in galley type, then sat me down and patiently circled the 13 mistakes I had made. It was my first, and best, lesson in journalism.

Thank you, Doug Henry. You dramatically and literally ripped to shreds that turgid planning commission piece I had crafted so carefully, thundering loud enough for the entire newsroom to hear: "Come back when you have a real story!" Yes, I needed some new underwear, but that was the second-best journalism lesson I ever had.

Thank you, Bill Jackson. You were committed to covering your community and showed me that good people can be good bosses, too.

Thank you, Linda Cagnetti. You took a chance on a baby editor as your assistant and then gave me every kind of opportunity. How fortunate I was to have your tutelage in my first management gig. By your example you also demonstrated that work should, and can, be fun.

Thank you, P.J. Bednarski, Mr. Hilites, Mr. News for Those of You with Short Attention Spans, for providing so much of the aforementioned fun. Thank you, Jerry Ceppos. You hired me and helped me, hired me and helped me, hired me and... You also taught me that this business starts and ends with talent, so draft for the best talent available every chance you get.

Thank you, Edna Buchanan. You taught me that crime victims are real people who leave behind other real people, and the best journalists never permit themselves to forget that.

Thank you, Gene Miller, The Evansville Flash. If you had written Genesis, God would have invented the world in three days, as I'm sure you remind Him now and again when you're knocking back a few.

Thank you, Glenn Vaughn. Such a country gentleman, the publisher who once, driving me through the heavily forested slopes of western Georgia, looked about and said with a genuine sigh, "I've often thought, 'If only pine trees could read'..." Bless you, and Nancy too.

Thank you, Jack Swift. Together we decided that news objectivity did not equate to passivity, that newspapers should not cannot pretend that they don't figure in the civic agendas of their communities. I hope your restless soul has found its peace.

Thank you, Rick Edmonds and Andy Barnes. You gave me the chance to run a magazine and taught me that big media companies can have big hearts. Thank you, Jon Krim. I learned from you that you can never settle, that we owe readers our very best no matter how uncomfortable or inconvenient it might be in acquiring it.

Thank you, Reese Cleghorn. You built a great journalism school by demonstrating that editorial sensibilities and academic sensibilities are two great pistons that can work together beautifully. Then, ever gracious, you turned over the keys.

Thank you, Chris Callahan. What I knew about being a dean when I started you could pretty much fit into the palm of your hand, with room left over. But you knew everything else. You taught me that, as with parenting, we do our students no favors when we expect too little of them. You're also probably the best reporter I've ever known. Go Sox.

Thank you, Phil and Ellie Merrill, for being what philanthropists should be: supporters, believers, confidants, mentors, sounding boards and, if one is really lucky, dear friends.

Thank you, Gene Roberts. I came to Maryland 11 years ago because I knew that if you ever get a chance to work with a world-class anyone in your life, you do it. I owe you, well, pretty much everything.

Thank you, faculty and staff of Maryland's exceptional journalism school. What a privilege it has been to work with you for the past decade. Thanks especially to Shirley Sisk, my great pal and co-conspirator.

Last but hardly least, thank you, Rem Rieder. It's been nothing short of a 25-year doo-wop fest at the Palestra.

This is my last column for AJR. I depart soon to become president of another outstanding institution, St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wisconsin, which as far as I can tell apparently talked to none of the foregoing people before hiring me. It is the latest in an unbroken line of opportunities that I have been afforded in my life. Those opportunities are almost entirely due to the people I've mentioned here, and so many others this limited space precludes me from singling out. But they know who they are.

I believe all of us are endowed with certain qualities, and that we in turn have a moral obligation to make the most of those, as often as possible in the service of others. I went into journalism for a lot of reasons, but mostly because I believed it helps people. I still believe that. I always will.