Aiming for the Top
July 31, 2003 |
by Black Issues
Aiming for the Top
Foundation backing puts school’s journalism and communications program on new footing
By Ronald Roach
When Erin Hill read a magazine article her senior year in high school about Hampton University’s plans for a new journalism and communications building, she saw the project validating her desire to attend the historically Black school in Hampton, Va.
“I was interested in journalism, and seeing that (Hampton) was getting a new building for the journalism program was a good thing,” she says.
This past school year, Hill and her schoolmates took classes for the first time in the modern 25,000 square-foot, two-story building that’s been designated as the Scripps Howard School of Journalism and Communications. The facility is outfitted with high-tech classrooms, state-of-the-art broadcast production equipment and five computer labs.
The inaugural year for the new school has brought a degree of prominence to Hampton and its partnership with the Scripps Howard Foundation, which is based in Cincinnati. Officials say the partnership is the first collaboration between an individual foundation and a historically Black school that has upgraded a mass media arts department into a full-fledged school of journalism and communications.
“There’s no partnership out there like this. I think the sky is the limit,” says Dr. Chris Campbell, the incoming director of the new school.
The Scripps Howard Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the media conglomerate E.W. Scripps Co., poured in more than $5.7 million for the construction of a new journalism and communications center. The foundation also has committed $2.3 million in support of the journalism program, scholarships and an endowed journalism professorship.
Scripps Howard chose the Hampton mass media program for an expansion after making the decision to invest in historically Black schools since they play a critical role in educating African American college graduates, according to Judith G. Clabes, president and CEO of the foundation.
Clabes and Hampton president Dr. William Harvey established the partnership because it was believed the collaboration could turn the Hampton journalism program into one of the best in the nation.
“The goal is to make Hampton University’s journalism program one of the top 10 programs in the country and to create at Hampton University a role model for other historically Black institutions and potential media partners,” according to a statement by Harvey.
Passing the Torch
This summer, Campbell takes the helm as the first permanent director of the school of journalism and communications. Campbell, who has been the director of the journalism and mass media program at the University of Idaho and the mass communications department at historically Black Xavier University in New Orleans, welcomes the challenge of turning Hampton into a top-rated journalism program, particularly given the commitment by the Scripps Howard Foundation.
Campbell notes that media organizations and foundations, such as Scripps Howard and the Knight Foundation, have traditionally thrown large-scale support behind the best-known journalism and communications programs. He points to places such as the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University and the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California, as examples of schools whose programs enjoy top-rank status along with the backing of a major media company or foundation.
“The best journalism schools have found major partners,” Campbell explains.
He says the media organizations largely associated with newspaper publishing have put forth the most aggressive efforts in recent years at increasing the presence of minorities in newsrooms. That effort has begun to produce dramatic results for the HBCU community of journalism schools as leading media organizations have better recognized the HBCU potential to produce Black journalists, according to observers. In addition to Hampton, the journalism program at Florida A&M University is undergoing a major transformation due to the largess of media foundations.
At Florida A&M University (FAMU), the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and other media foundations have donated millions with the aim of improving journalism and media education at the nation’s largest historically Black public university. The Knight Foundation has contributed more than $3 million toward the construction of a new building for FAMU’s journalism school. The foundation has already helped establish an endowed professorship, a faculty and student support endowment, and a student scholarship program, according to officials.
Campbell says the backing of a Scripps Howard or a Knight Foundation means that a journalism and communications school can greatly expand the opportunities for its students with stronger relationships with media companies, hire a larger number of experienced professionals as faculty members, and provide access to the best technology and equipment.
Between last September, when the new school opened, and early July, Rosalynne Whitaker-Heck served as its interim director. She believes the collaboration has begun to have a positive effect. “We are seeing an increase in the number of print journalists being attracted to the school,” she says.
Typically, the total number of print journalism majors has ranged from 10 to 20 students. This past school year, 36 students were classified as print journalism majors, according to Whitaker-Heck. In the other majors, Hampton has averaged about 120 broadcast journalism students, 38 media management students, 50 public relations students and 50 advertising students, she says.
Campbell says one significant goal is to increase the number of full-time faculty members in the school from eight to 12. He explains that the school relies a great deal on part-time faculty members, many of whom are working professionals, and it will have more visiting faculty members joining the program.
In addition to having Campbell named as director, the school is getting veteran African American journalist Earl Caldwell as its Scripps Howard endowed professor of journalism this fall. A former reporter for the New York Times, Caldwell refused to disclose information to the FBI and the Nixon administration about his sources in the Black Panther party. The outcome of a U.S. Supreme Court case involving Caldwell led to the enactment of laws in many states that allow reporters to protect sources.
Caldwell, who is 64, was the only reporter to witness the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. While at Hampton, his plans include documenting the oral histories of senior African American journalists.
Getting Back On Track
With a new director on board, the school is resuming a course put largely into place by a former Scripps Howard executive who had steered the program since the partnership was established. Veteran newspaper journalist Charlotte Grimes, who had served as director of the mass media department from 2000 to summer 2002, had been slated to become the school’s first director but the appointment did not result after a dispute surfaced between her and Hampton president Harvey.
Instead of glowing media coverage about the school’s official launch, the news of a misunderstanding between Grimes and Harvey last year over the school’s direction clouded the early days of its beginning.
Part of the dispute has been said to have resulted from a misunderstanding over whether Harvey was going to allow the journalism curriculum to include investigative journalism. According to news reports, Grimes is said to have clashed with Harvey over the issue. Grimes resigned last October from the Scripps Howard endowed professorship she had held.
“It really was just time for me to go. I didn’t want to be a distraction and a lightning rod for a very important issue about mission and direction for a top-quality journalism school, so I just thought that, as sad and as hard as it was, this was the best time for me and everyone concerned, especially the students,” said Grimes in a statement to a columnist with the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education.
Scripps Howard and Hampton officials say they feel assured that Harvey supports the pursuit of investigative journalism as part of the curriculum and that the school is on the right track. “I think the momentum in the new school is even stronger now,” says Drew Berry, a Scripps Howard board member and general manager at WMAR-TV in Baltimore.
For his part, Campbell did have concerns about the reports he had read about Grimes’ departure when he interviewed for the director’s position. His discussions with Hampton personnel, Scripps Howard officials and Harvey convinced him there was nothing to worry about.
“I think there were misunderstandings and miscommunication that led to her leaving. Dr. Harvey has no objection to us teaching investigative journalism,” Campbell says. “We’re in a position where we’re ready to get started again.”
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