Journalism’s Impact on Professors at DePauw

Photo Courtesy of Rishabh Sharma

The DePauw has created a community for writers on campus for the past 170 years. Professors at DePauw reflect on their experiences with journalism and how it has impacted their lives. 

Jeffrey McCall, professor of communication, said, “Journalism can be a glue that holds a complex society together. Journalism is a way to hold powerful institutions such as governments, corporations, and universities accountable. Solid journalism serves a surrogate role to represent and report for the interests of news consumers.”  

He said during his time, working in journalism has impacted him positively in many ways. In particular, it has made him think outside of himself and look at the interest of external publics. It also sharpened his thinking because journalism requires precision and accountability. 

“Studying journalism should make students more other-centered, in that the reporting is designed to enhance understanding by audiences. Journalism students also become more effective communicators in both speaking and writing,” McCall said. 

McCall said studying communication and journalism should make students better critical thinkers because “language is the vehicle for transporting news reports and those must be clear and efficient.”

Jonathan Nichols-Pethick, professor of communication and theater, said, “One really important way to study the media is to actually get in there and do it in places like the university newspaper, radio station, and television station. It's such a valuable experience even if you don't plan to pursue media as a career. And, the skills are so transferable to so many other careers. I can't think of many careers where it wouldn't be valuable to be a skilled writer, a good researcher, and a clear communicator.”

Nichols-Pethick said he worked at his college's newspaper, and it was one of the biggest formative experiences for him in undergrad. He got to do his own writing from the guidance of his advisor and editor but also served as an editor and gained leadership experience. 

“I wrote for and edited the Arts and Entertainment section of the paper. It was my ‘beat,’ so I got to cover all the concerts and theater events on campus, learned how to write movie reviews, and got to interview professional writers, musicians, and actors who came through campus. It was a really heady time. I was working hard and having a blast doing it. And, honestly, I think it made me a better student. I got so much experience researching and writing that my coursework just started to feel like an extension of my work at the paper. I just got better at everything,” he said. 

Nichols-Pethick said that another important aspect of his experience at the college paper was the camaraderie among the staff. He said they worked out of a two-story house with the radio station downstairs and the paper upstairs.

“So much good stuff happens when people work together in the same physical space. It creates community and a shared sense of purpose. It breathes life into the work in a way that can't be replicated easily,” he said.  

Samuel Autman, associate professor of English, said in the article “First Person by Samuel Autman,” “From spring 2003 and periodically until 2017, I had the pleasure and social treacheries of serving as the faculty adviser for The DePauw. The student journalists could listen to or ignore my input. University colleagues didn’t want me eavesdropping, knowing the content of their conversations could land in the newspaper. It’s a tightrope walk only student media advisers understand.”

He said that working as the advisor for Indiana’s oldest college newspaper provided a doorway to his life in higher education and he has gotten to know many successful student journalists along the way. 

“I saw scores of students become journalists. Ellen Kobe ’13 is at CNN+. Her brother, David Kobe ’17, went to Fox News and later got a master’s in cultural affairs reporting from New York University. Brooks Hepp ’19 became a staff writer for the Battle Creek Enquirer. Brock E.W. Turner ’17 became a reporter for WFIU, Indiana Public Media in Bloomington,” Autman said. 

“My fondest memories are of the musty, grimy newsroom in the Pulliam Center for Contemporary Media, where piles of newspapers created a fire hazard. Each day, I passed a mini shrine to Bernard Kilgore, the famed managing editor of The Wall Street Journal who got his start at The DePauw, and through a doorway that provided an entry to a new university life for me, as I stepped away from the world of daily journalism,” Autman said.