Since its founding in 1927, the Department of Journalism has trained reporters, editors and photographers, and in recent years broadcast journalists, producers and a host of advertising and public relations professionals. With the March elevation of school status and a new, respected moniker, the story is just beginning.
by Nancy Bartosek
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by Nancy Bartosek
The roots of journalism at TCU were planted in 1873 when brothers Addison and Randolph Clark opened the first coed school in Texas, dedicated to “securing the highest intellectual culture together with the greatest moral purity.”
Their father, J.A. Clark, had worked at newspapers in Alabama and Texas, and many in his family followed in the business, notably Addison Clark Jr., who created and edited TCU’s first yearbook in 1897-98, giving the young school an annual and its mascot. He also edited a monthly magazine, the Collegian, which published from 1895 to 1912.
Ed McKinney, a cash-strapped student entrepreneur who needed tuition, launched the Skiff in 1902. It was a private endeavor but did offer a popular slice of life and an advertising vehicle for the school.
The success of the publications and the popularity of journalism lectures on campus in the early 1920s indicated an interest in the field.
In 1927, J. Willard Ridings was hired to establish a journalism department, and the direction was set: TCU would produce a new crop of journalists, ones grounded in learning and practice, not ground out by gritty newsmen.
Ridings devised the curriculum, then pulled the Skiff into the department to be a laboratory publication. The editor was a journalism major.
The initial class of 30 students met in two rooms on the second floor of the administration building, now Dave Reed Hall. Upstairs, the Skiff occupied two small spaces.
Within a few years the department moved to quarters in the cellar of the “Little Gym,” now the Ballet Building. Ridings’ office was originally the trainer’s room; a wire cage separated it from the lab. A few years later, the journalists moved again, this time to the basement of Brite College, which now houses the School of Education.
In the 1940s they moved to yet another basement, in Goode Hall (today Clark Hall). This arrangement physically united both the academic and hands-on journalism programs. The department’s first photo lab was added in 1949.
Tragedy topped the headlines in 1948 when Ridings died the day he planned to take students on a field trip. He was 53.
Grandson Paul O. Ridings Jr. ’70 recalled: “My father always said J. Willard was the toughest professor he ever had. He tried to run people off but produced a number of high-quality graduates in the process.”
By 1950 the Skiff had become the heartbeat of the department. Clackety typewriters echoed in the dank gut of Goode Hall until 1952 when the department escaped the dungeon for temporary quarters in abandoned World War II barracks known as “splinter village.”
Splinter village also housed the veterans flooding onto the campus. Those former soldiers caused Frank Burkett ’50 to later say, “There was hardly any way for a working student like me who wanted to party to keep up. I guess it made me study harder.”
A print shop, sorely needed for a proper education in news production, was secured in honor of J. Willard Ridings. The presses started running when the department took over the south wing of then-new Dan Rogers Hall in 1957.
That year, a sophomore named Bob Schieffer switched his major to journalism and joined the newsroom crew.
Eugenia Trinkle ’51 — retired, TCU News Service — “Freshman athletes lived above the Skiff offices in Goode Hall and used to jam the water fountain. Water ran down the door into Dr. [Warren] Agee’s office. He kept umbrellas in his office so we could get in and out without getting wet. We used the back windows a lot because the basement was halfway above and below ground.”
Dan Jenkins ’53 — “My closest friends in TCU journalism were Bud Shrake and Dick Growald, also from Paschal. Shrake went on to great things, and Dick became the famous foreign correspondent for UPI that he was meant to be. I think what Bud and I best remember is that Dick instigated the book-burning and record-breaking party we had one day in the Skiff‘s basement office. We burned all the books we hated, starting with such things as Giants in the Earth, and broke all the records we hated, starting with anything Connie Francis sang.”
Public relations courses were introduced in the mid-’60s, coinciding with the early years of the global information age and growth in such programs nationwide. Doug Ann Newsom, a successful public relations professional, joined the faculty. The first black journalism student, Ken Bunting ’70, was recruited.
The news-editorial program earned accreditation through the American Council on Education for Journalism in 1967. Fewer than 60 U.S. schools and departments held the designation, and TCU was the only private university in Texas to do so.
Early in the decade, the department was again scattered around campus, but it reclaimed the Rogers Hall space after the accreditation team criticized the problems with being housed in three buildings.
J’Nell Pate ’60 — “I wrote an editorial about the bookstore and got clobbered because I didn’t tell both sides. Then I wrote one telling the bookstore’s side and got clobbered by students. It taught me a lesson I’ve never forgotten.”
Kathi Clough Miller ’67 — “All stories were written with manual typewriters, and page layouts were done by hand. The lab was in the Dan Rogers building, and the centerpiece was a semicircle copy desk. AP news came in on a Teletye machine. Like everyone my age, I remember where I was when President Kennedy was assassinated. I was a freshman. I came out of a music class and walked across campus to the Skiff lab, wondering why church bells were ringing. When I got there, a large crowd was gathered around the AP machine, which was clattering out the first news about the assassination.”
The Horned Frog yearbook disappeared from campus for six years when editor Tom Siegfried ’74 proposed creating a magazine, which some believed would teach students a more useful skill.
The student publications committee was split evenly until a proxy vote in favor of the proposal arrived from Suzanne Huffman ’77 (now a member of the faculty) who couldn’t make the meeting. The Horned Frog returned in 1977 when student government took over responsibility.
The department combined advertising and public relations into one program, and many in education bitterly dismissed the move. It would prove inspired as schools began similar integrations in the 1990s.
A broadcast journalism degree was offered jointly with radio-television-film, though the partnership would later dissolve.
The first Urban Journalism Workshop was hosted to foster an interest in journalism among high school minority students. Many of the program’s graduates later became Horned Frogs. The award-winning program continues today.
Johnny Livengood ’71 — “I wrote an editorial or a column complaining that the chancellor would not respond to my calls for an interview or answer my questions about something or other. I came into the newsroom and Lew Fay said the chancellor’s secretary called. He then chewed me out for actually putting that in the paper, saying there are better ways to resolve the situation. I felt like I was being sent to the principal’s office. Dr. Moudy cautiously welcomed me into his office. We talked about the TCU-A&M basketball game the night before that included a brawl when some of the A&M players made racial comments to some of our players. Then we talked about whatever it was I wanted to ask in the first place. He then said, ‘My door really is always open to you, so instead of embarrassing me in the paper, next time you should just drop by.’ “
Mike Gerst ’75 — “On a cold autumn day, a goat was bludgeoned with a claw hammer and butchered behind Brachman Hall in preparation for the annual Bilbo Baggins birthday feast. The Skiff bravely took up the banner of defenseless goats everywhere until a rather large jock parked himself in the newsroom and passionately explained why ‘there ain’t nothin’ wrong with killin’ a goat,’ since it wasn’t uncommon for athletic dorm residents to use their shower stalls to dress a deer they killed over the weekend.”
Professor Jack Raskopf — “When I was ad/PR director at Rockwell, I saw you had to use both disciplines … they were blended. I saw things happening in the company when they were separate functions. Ads were running and the PR people didn’t know about the products in the ads.”
After enduring inadequate space for decades, the department exulted in their home in the shiny, new Moudy Building in 1981.
With room to grow, it tackled victims’ rights in 1986 by hosting the first symposium for crime victims and the media. The symposium awakened journalists to the need for thorough coverage tempered with fair treatment of the injured.
The Department of Journalism Ethics Award was created in 1988, foreshadowing the retooled mission statement TCU would introduce a dozen years later.
A global outlook emerged when the first international course, Intercultural Communication, was offered at Oxford University in England. The TCU London Centre would grow out of this early beginning.
A master of science in mass communication was approved in 1984 but was changed to the more theoretical media studies in 1988, which was offered in conjunction with radio-TV-film
Carrie Cassell Reber ’83 — “The ever-gracious Doug Newsom knew I was struggling for money, and she knew of a scholarship available to those who were studying broadcast journalism. I hadn’t decided a definite direction yet — print or broadcast — so in order to qualify for the scholarship, I applied for an internship at KXAS-TV, the Fort Worth NBC affiliate. It was great fun hanging around with the Action News team, learning to run the Chiron machine and continually being sent to Braum’s for the vanilla milk shakes the producers seemed to live on.”
Richard Glenn ’83 — “One story that had great impact was an ongoing series on the terrible state of student dining services under a truly evil company called ARA. The series culminated with a shocking exposé, complete with a huge photo of a fired chicken wing with feathers still stuck to it … gross! But it was effective, and ARA was quickly run out of town on a rail and Marriott Food Services took over, making a big improvement. Muckraking at its finest.”
International education grew in the ’90s to include summer activities and semesters abroad, complete with international internships and, in 1998, the program’s own Centre in the heart of London.
The Advertising Campaigns class was revived when advertising executive Mike Wood joined the faculty and a team competed successfully in the National Student Advertising Competition sponsored by the American Advertising Federation.
Broadcast journalism was resurrected in 1999, ushering in a new visual media age. SkiffTV was created to showcase student work.
The department would further its commitment to teaching ethics with the arrival in 1999 of Phil Record, a nationally recognized expert in the field. His buddy Bob Schieffer ’59 would return to campus that year to chair The Commission on the Future of TCU.
The Texas Community Journalism Project, featuring small, intensive workshops for professionals, was launched in 1998 to improve the quality and value of small-town publications.
Richard Waters ’95 — assistant director of editorial services, on being required to read the paper every day and facing pop quizzes to ensure compliance — “I don’t think Tommy (Thomason) realized what a pain it was to get the paper while living in the dorm. In the days before the Internet took off, newspaper deliverers would put the morning paper in a box locked with a combination because theft was rampant. Many of us had to go over to the library and take turns reading the paper. Or we’d tag team reading different sections and share the highlights. Looking back, I’m glad that was a key part of the training. I went into the newspaper world and found some of my colleagues didn’t bother to read the paper, even the one they worked for. I was glad Tommy and the others put a priority on it.”
Kim Speairs ’92 — APR, director of client services, Witherspoon and Associates — “For journalism students, seeing your name in print for the first time is one of the biggest thrills in life. For ad/PR students, seeing your clients proudly display an article you place for them is one of the biggest thrills in life. For me, I experienced the best of both worlds thanks to a feature article on the Ol’ South Pancake House. Originally submitted for a PR writing class, my feature story on the fun characters at this popular TCU hangout later appeared in the Skiff. Nothing made me happier that semester than seeing my article displayed in a place of honor on the wall behind the cash register at Ol’ South.”
Journalism Education hop-scotched south when the department created a one-of-a-kind dual-degree program with Universidad de las Americas in Puebla, Mexico. Students from both schools study one year at the sister school and earn a degree from both universities.
Broadcast journalism expanded with the arrival of TV news director John Miller, who launched “TCU News Now” in 2004. The student-produced program airs on local cable.
The Fort Worth Journalism Project, began in 2002 and expanded the following year with support from the Society of Professional Journalists, Fort Worth Professional Chapter. The goal is to pull local minorities into journalism by providing a spring workshop and other resources for high-school journalism programs.
Today, 16 full-time faculty boast more than 205 years of experience in the field, as well as publications in every major scholarly journal in mass media. Add in the working adjuncts, and you get a world of experience.
It could be said that the philosophy J. Willard Ridings established in 1927 continues today: If a TCU graduate applies for a job in media or advertising/public relations, he or she will be hired on the spot.
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