AJR  Columns
From AJR,   July/August 2000

A College and a Magazine   

Maryland's J-school and AJR have come of age together.

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.     

Does news do any harm, does it do any good, is it really an agent of culture or merely one of the innumerable idle pastimes with which we distract ourselves? Such questions may be hard to answer, but surely the first business of a journalism review should be to register them.
--Larry McMurtry,
Washington Journalism Review premiere issue,
October 1977

R EGULAR VISITORS TO this space--and if you are reading this, doubtless you are one--confront a face other than Reese Cleghorn's for the first time in 13 years. If you find that unsettling, consider how I feel.
As he told you last month, Reese, after nearly two decades as dean of the University of Maryland College of Journalism, is stepping off the merry-go-round. Never was a sabbatical more well-earned. But it will be just that, a sabbatical, for soon enough Reese intends to be back in the classroom, treating students to the same cool-headed counsel he has been dispensing here since 1987. Meantime, I'm feeling a little like Ryan Minor--the guy the Orioles penciled in at third base the day Cal Ripken Jr. finally sat down.
Reese's has been an extraordinary tenure as dean, one that saw him inherit a not especially distinguished journalism program and muscle it into one of the nation's best. Not least of his accomplishments was taking the bequest of WJR--now AJR--keeping it alive and then shepherding the steady improvement that continues to this day. He found the perfect partner in this work in Editor Rem Rieder, an old friend of mine and a guy so thoroughly Philly that he can actually pronounce Schuylkill.
The fact is, AJR and the College of Journalism, like spirited, precocious siblings, have come of age together. For us it is impossible to imagine one without the other, so intertwined are they.
You might say we were doing synergy before synergy was cool. In a media world being driven and defined by its rapidly changing technology, traditional values are increasingly roadkill on the information superhighway. Journalism reviews are needed as never before, asking the kind of inconvenient questions that Larry McMurtry suggested in his spirited invocation. Likewise it is imperative that today's journalism students be armed with the right values, and at Maryland these are at the heart of our educational experience.
In May, Hodding Carter III, president of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and former holder of the Knight Chair here at Maryland, told our graduates that they are moving into the front lines of a "war" for the soul of journalism. At stake is whether the news media continue to operate with the prime and noble obligation of keeping the citizenry informed, or whether, to riff on McMurtry's theme, journalism becomes simply one of the innumerable idle pastimes with which the fast-buck boys and girls enrich themselves.
Reese Cleghorn fought relentlessly to keep this school, and this magazine, on the right side of the battle. So will I.