A Loyola journalism professor looks back on his legacy and the students who made it big
A self-examination at life’s end centers on one question: “Did I fulfill my life’s purpose; did I make a difference?” The answer is in the legacy one has left behind — if anyone cares to search for it.
My life had many professional twists and turns, but the dominant one as a professor at Loyola University in Baltimore gives me an advantage in the legacy department. Usually when a person finds out that I taught journalism, they inevitably ask, “Have any of your students become famous?” Such is our celebrity-obsessed world.
Looking back at the life accomplishments of my former students, the best I can say is that I didn’t impede them. I am more concerned about the promising student who came to my class and concluded, “Journalism isn’t for me.” I’ll never know about them. The ones I remember may indicate a role as a motivator.
For example, there’s Trif Alatzas, the editor and publisher of The Baltimore Sun, with whom I had many interactions as my student, but none that impressed me as crucial to his development. At least I didn’t scare him away from journalism. Plus I wasn’t the only J-professor he had. As a cohort, I guess we can be proud together.
One of the most surprising is Kevin Atticks, the newly appointed secretary of agriculture for the state of Maryland. I recruited him into our journalism program on a campus elevator. I first complimented him on his performance with The Chimes, Loyola’s male a cappella singing group. By the time we arrived at our exit floor, I remember stopping him with my hand to his chest and telling him he needed to be a journalism major. I’ve always had an instinct for those who projected an unflappable commitment to truth in their lives. This was the raw material of journalism.
Kevin went on to graduate school at the University of Colorado and the University of Baltimore, and I was able to bring him back to Loyola as an instructor. He linked up once with my study abroad program in Italy. I don’t know if his interest in wine started there, but he came back to the
U.S. and published several local vineyard guides. That start in publishing resulted in his taking over Apprentice House Publishers, an outreach of the Loyola journalism program, after I retired. I am excited that someone of his caliber got tapped for an important government job. He is all about service, not ego. I can see him playing an important role in national politics and governance someday.
I feel a special satisfaction in the recent appointment of George W. Miller III as associate dean for academic affairs at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. I remember George coming into my office in his senior year and my telling him, “If you get your masters at Columbia next year, I’ll bring you to Italy the next summer as faculty on our Cagli Program.” He did, and the rest is history. He later went on to serve on the J-faculty at Temple University, and headed their Japan campus for several years. His Philadelphia background in gritty urban journalism, his commitment to experiential education and his vision for upholding the core values of journalism — all line up to predict an even bigger role in higher communications education as it struggles to redefine itself under pressure from AI and social media.
The story of Michael A. Memoli is inspiring. He went directly from our Cagli Project program, which combines classroom instruction with real-world experience and is where I singled him out for student leadership, into a high-profile journalism job covering the 2008 presidential campaign for NBC-TV. He later became a reporter for the Los Angeles Times working out of their Washington bureau. There are still big things ahead for Mike, who is back at NBC as a White House correspondent and plans to write a book, “The Long Run,” on President Joe Biden after the 2024 election. From there I can see an academic appointment to some graduate program.
These last three would be legacy enough, but I know there are many more who went on to media careers. I was only one professor who touched their lives. But what a satisfying career to have been interacting with students as they were making the first important professional decisions.
Would I do anything differently today? Of course I would. I would work with students to engage intellectually with the issues facing journalism now. Never has the threat been so terminal. But also there have never been more platforms to which we must adapt without losing the meaning of journalism for our society. We are living in a selfie world where ego supersedes the truth of objectivity. Even more challenging, a mind-altered society cannot distinguish between the real world and fantasy. If there is an audience out there, we have to find it — and nurture it.