Centennial project to capture the voice of Scripps
By David Neri
The E.W. Scripps School of Journalism has always been special. So it’s only fitting that its story be told in a special way. In anticipation of the its fast-approaching 100th year, the school has been preparing such aa account, not told by any one person, but rather by many of the alumni and faculty (and even one current student) who have shaped its history across the years.
“We’re not that far away from the centennial of the School of Journalism,” said Robert Stewart, director of the E.W. Scripps School. “The first class was taught in 1923. Journalism became a department in ‘24 and advanced to school status in the ‘30s, so we are coming up to the centennial of journalism education at Ohio,“ Stewart said.
”There are examples of [centennial] books, so I thought that we should consider documenting this anniversary. A book is the most logical way to do that,” Stewart said, adding, “But what kind of story needs to be told?”
For the answer to this question, Stewart turned to former Director and Professor Emeritus Ralph Izard. “Around three years ago, Dr. Stewart approached me and asked if I would do a history of the School of Journalism, . . . and I said ‘no.’ I am not a historian and I had no interest in doing a traditional history,” Izard said. “[It’s] just not my thing. Interesting perhaps, but not my thing.”
But the conversation didn’t end there. “I said to him, ‘Tell ya what I will do, though. I’ll put together a group of alumni, faculty and friends of the school, each of whom will write an individual piece, often about something in which he or she had been involved . . . .’”
Stewart knew that Izard was the person best suited to pull off such a project. “Ralph Izard was the director of the school when I was hired back in the ‘80s,” said Stewart. “He was Mr. School of Journalism, and all of the people who studied here back then still think of him when they think of the School of Journalism.“
Now, having collected more than 200 entries and accompanying photos, Izard has compiled a picture of the school that Stewart says reflects the broad and deep stories of those who have walked through its doors. “It is more or less a series of short stories, not necessarily all biographical,” said Stewart. “The ‘lift’ was not heavy for any one person, and this approach actually gives the book a lot of different voices [and] a shared feeling of ownership.”
In addition to the history of the school itself, the book includes a section on recent changes that have been made to the independent student newspaper, The Post. This part is written by senior journalism student Emma Ockerman, the paper’s current editor.
“I was really interested in the history of The Post, so Izard reached out to me. He was a former [Post] adviser, and a really good one at that. He thought that, even though it is not directly connected with the School of Journalism, the history of The Post and the history of the school go hand in hand. If you’re going to write about how the school has innovated, you also want to write about how The Post has innovated as well,” said Ockerman.
The project has also drawn the attention of many of the school’s alumni, some of whom have had the chance to contribute to this living history. “There is a lot of interest. [The graduates] had great fun writing these pieces . . . and it was a lot of fun for me. I am very proud of this school. We all are,” said Izard. “I have been in touch with former students, some of whom I had not seen for 40 years, and they reminded me of things that were important in their days.”
With the last of these stories having been submitted in early February, Izard is now working on compiling the various accounts into a cohesive whole. “The timetable is that the book will come out in 2018,” said Stewart. “[We would] then use the book over the next five years to fundraise for a new ‘Centennial Scholarship,’ to help future students achieve their dreams in the field of journalism. The book will be a ‘premium’ for donations to the new scholarship. This campaign will begin in earnest in Fall 2018, which is exactly five years before the 100th anniversary.”
A digital copy of the book is also in the works, in order to provide its content to a wider audience. In addition to the historical significance, the project has a personal dimension for Stewart, who sees it as one of his legacies as director of the school.
“I’ve already been here 30 years and will not be here forever. At some point, I will run out of gas and someone with more energy will take over,” said Stewart. “I’d like to get the school to the century mark and then let a new director start the next 100 years.”
After having a chance to examine the bulk of material for the book, both Stewart and Izard pointed to the potential for the project to illuminate parts of the school history for those who only now are being added to its pages. “I read the whole book and while I don’t have a single favorite entry, I will say that I learned a lot about the school, which is interesting, given that I’ve been here for almost a third of its history,” said Stewart. “I was not here for two-thirds of its history, when a lot of interesting people did many interesting things that I had not known about. The whole process was revealing.”
“One of the things I am impressed with is the great variety of in this book,” said Izard. “We have a whole section on the riots at this university in 1970. We have a section on diversity, about how the school has always sought to serve all people. We have a story on our journalism graduates who have won Pulitzer Prizes. We have a story on students who have taken their dissertations, converted them into books, and had those books published. We have stories on a number of people who have had outstanding careers in public relations and advertising. It is a book that covers a wide range of material.”
In the end, this book not only captures the events and people who shaped the institution, but a bit of its shared soul. “I personally think that the collective of these stories is a powerful message,” said Stewart. “The stories are like a quilt of memories and experiences. When you put it all together, you see both the grandness of the whole and your own part within it. Whether you read it as an alumnus or a student, you can say, ‘I’m part of that story. I’m part of that legacy.’”