Journalism School Hits 100
Established in 1922, the U of M journalism program educates newshounds who inform us and hold the powerful accountable
For a full century now, the U of M has been doing its part to reinforce the fourth pillar of democracy, educating those who have become influential in speaking truth to power.
When the Board of Regents first approved the department of journalism as a course of study in 1922, they could not have foreseen the force the program would become, not only in the community but also in the country. Today, through the lens of its centennial, it’s possible to chart the program’s course as a pioneering institution now known as the Hubbard School of Journalism and Mass Communication.
After moving from its initial home in Folwell Hall to Pillsbury Hall in 1929, the journalism department settled into what would become its permanent home on the Mall, Murphy Hall, in 1940—the four-story red brick building with its own auditorium, library, and classrooms. Students who worked on the campus newspaper—and now had spacious offices in Murphy’s lower level—expressed their appreciation for the move by lugging the old copy desk out of Pillsbury Hall and setting it aflame.
George Hage, who taught students everything from basic reporting to literary journalism from 1946 to 1983, would write in his history of Murphy Hall’s first 50 years that the bonfire “was how staffers of the 1939-40 Daily shook off the dust of [the] Pioneer Hall basement and moved into the gleaming ground floor of William J. Murphy Hall in February 1940.”
Under the leadership of its first director, Ralph Casey, the department of journalism would become the School of Journalism in 1941. It further made its mark in 1944 by establishing a research division—the first of its kind in the nation. The division was dedicated to conducting large-scale studies of mass media and to attracting graduate students. It initially partnered with the Minneapolis Star and Tribune newspapers, though it would eventually branch out to include other local media and work for national entities such as the Office of Naval Research and the Carnegie Endowment. Moreover, the emphasis on research promoted Casey’s vision of training journalists as rigorously and completely as doctors and lawyers.
“Casey oversaw a shift from a traditional school to one devoted to intellectual scholarship,” says Phil Tichenor, University professor emeritus of sociology and journalism.
Thanks to the GI Bill, enrollment in the journalism school soared in 1945 from 198 students to almost 500 the following year. In 1948, Casey implemented an advertising degree program. The same year, the American Council on Education for Journalism validated the University’s J-school with its “accredited” designation, one of only 35 journalism schools in the country at the time so recognized.
Casey’s emphasis on research yielded the publication of seminal works—a tradition that continues to this day. Titles such as J. Edward Gerald’s explanation of how court decisions impact media, The Press & the Constitution; Edwin Emery and Henry Ladd Smith’s comprehensive history of American media, The Press and America; and Donald M. Gillmor and Jerome A. Barron’s popular textbook, Mass Communication and Law: Cases and Comment, were just a few. In 1951, the school also created a Ph.D. program for graduate students doing research and conferred its first doctoral degree five years later, in 1956.
During the ’50s, faculty and students enjoyed close and informal relations, cultivated by the teachers’ open door policies and annual social gatherings such as “Dogwatch” when the group gathered to participate in parody skits, and the Journalism Day picnic in spring.
The Vietnam War would strain those relations the following decade, one which also saw significant distinctions in the school’s curriculum. The school established specializations in broadcast journalism, magazine journalism, creative graphic arts, and public relations. In the basement of Murphy’s south wing, R. Smith “Smitty” Schuneman developed a photojournalism specialization unparalleled in the nation, training students who went on to work at prestigious photocentric magazines like National Geographic and Life.
In 1966, the Regents approved an official name change to the School of Journalism and Mass Communication.
During the ’70s, a wave of investigative reporting swept the nation. The Washington Post uncovered Watergate, The New York Times published the Pentagon Papers, and Seymour Hersh exposed the My Lai massacre. In step with that, journalism became the most popular major in the College of Liberal Arts. SJMC enrollment almost doubled, from 602 students in 1970 to 1,156 in 1980. That prompted the SJMC to implement special entrance requirements, the first department within CLA to do so.
The ’80s would see more curriculum changes, including a mass communications track for non-professional majors, the beginnings of its popular mentor program, and flourishing internship opportunities throughout the Twin Cities—including at various media outlets (radio, television, print), corporations, advertising agencies, and public relations firms. Practicum courses that placed students in actual newsrooms provided further opportunities for hands-on learning.
“The connections in a major metro area have always been a major selling point, one of the really big advantages we’ve always had, unlike other Big 10 research universities,” says Kathy Hansen, who taught at the school for 40 years, including the popular course Information for Mass Communication, and coauthored the book Search Strategies in Mass Communication.
The late ’70s and early ’80s also saw the establishment of three significant centers that furthered the school’s contribution to work done by the media. In 1979, the school founded the Minnesota Journalism Center to promote cross-fertilization between journalism academics and professionals, thanks to a donation from John Cowles Sr., then-chair of the Minneapolis Star and Tribune Corporation and his wife, Elizabeth Bates Cowles. In 1984, Otto Silha (B.A. ’40), a U of M alumnus and former publisher of the Minneapolis Star and Tribune, gave $2.5 million to establish the Silha Center for the Study of Media Ethics and Law, a unique academic center that explores the intersection of media ethics and media law. In 1988, the China Times Foundation in Washington, D.C., provided a grant to establish the The China Times Center for Media and Social Studies to foster communication between American and Chinese journalists.
During the ’80s, after the Vietnam era, the faculty’s easy accessibility again became an important aspect of a student’s education, especially for someone like Chris Ison (B.A. ’83), who edited the Minnesota Daily in 1982-83, and won a Pulitzer Prize in 1990 for his investigative reporting at the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
“I could walk across the hall and ask Don Gillmor, who wrote the book on media law, a legal question,” Ison recalls of his time at the U of M.
Sometimes the faculty were the ones initiating these communications, like the time Arnold Ismach, the newspaper’s faculty advisor, walked into the Minnesota Daily office and asked Ison, “What’s the difference between a car being ‘destroyed’ and ‘totally destroyed’ (as Ison had written)?” Ison could only stammer in his defense.
“When you have a professor walking into the Daily office to yell at you, you get the point,” Ison says. “Those were invaluable lessons.”
Ison returned to the SJMC in 1991 to teach, initially as an adjunct, but retiring in 2021 as an associate professor.
The journalism school received a $10 million gift from the Hubbard Broadcasting Foundation in 2000, and was later renamed the Hubbard School of Journalism and Mass Communication.
The biggest change Ison has seen since his days as a student in the ’80s is how the cost of education has put more pressure on students to finish their degrees in four years, rather than linger, as he and his Daily peers did, putting off coursework to write copy. Though today’s students may also be more driven to find a job to pay back student loans taken out to cover those higher costs, Ison still sees the same values in them that were present in his day.
“There’s still that core of journalism students who are pretty idealistic and passionate, who want to go out and do serious journalism and change things,” he says.
Educating the Influential
Over the years, the U of M journalism program has graduated alumni who went on to stellar careers, in and around the journalism field. Here are a few notables:
Harrison Salisbury (B.A. ’30), Vietnam War correspondent for the New York Times
Carl Rowan (M.A. ’48), first Black columnist published in major newspapers; deputy Secretary of State in the Kennedy administration
Jim Klobuchar (B.A. ’50), Star Tribune columnist for 30 years
Robert Pirsig (M.A. ’58), author, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values
Paul Brainerd (M.A. ’73), inventor, Aldus desktop publishing software
Harry Reasoner (B.A. conferred ’89), CBS News Sunday anchor; cocreator of 60 Minutes
Michele Norris (B.A. ’85), columnist, Washington Post; formerly host of All Things Considered on National Public Radio
Monika Bauerlein (M.A. '91) CEO, Mother Jones
Sara Kehaulani Goo (B.A. ’98), editor-in-chief, Axios
Mukhtar Ibrahim (B.A. ’11), founder, Sahan Journal
John Rosengren is a freelance writer and author in the Twin Cities.