Perspective: Loren Ghiglione ’63 on Journalism
Loren Ghiglione ’63 is a former dean and current professor of Global Journalism at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.
Professor Ghiglione spoke with me over the phone about his experience at Haverford and distinguished career in journalism.
Ghiglione purchased the Southbridge Evening News at the age of 28, becoming one of the youngest editor/owners of a daily newspaper in the U.S. He’s also authored a number of books, including CBS’s Don Hollenbeck: An Honest Reporter in the Age of McCarthyism, which recounts the life and tragic suicide of Don Hollenbeck, a CBS newscaster and colleague of Edward Murrow.
Before there was The Bi-College News, Ghiglione wrote for The Haverford News, alongside journalism giants like Norm Pearlstine ’64 (currently chief content officer at Bloomberg, once editor-in-chief of Time), Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Roy Gutman ’66, Professor of Journalism Rob Manoff ’66, and the late Greg Kannerstein ’63, a former sportswriter and dean of the College.
More recently, Ghiglione was back at Haverford in April 2011 for the annual Andrew Silk Journalism Panel.
How did you get involved in journalism?
I was sports editor of my high school paper in New York City, and before there was a Bi-Co News, there was The Haverford News, when Haverford was single-sex. That was very influential in my career. There was no journalism course or program, I guess there still isn’t. So I tried to organize a series of speakers, to diminish our ignorance, the people on our staff – I had A.J. Liebling of The New Yorker, the editor of The Philadelphia Bulletin, White House correspondents, and other writers and reporters. We talked about the ethics of the business as well as writing and reporting aspects.
I interned during my time at Haverford at a paper called the Claremont (Calif.) Courier, and then after my senior year, at The Washington Post. Both were important experiences. I’m sure I was helped by my Haverford News experience in getting those internships.
It felt like it would be a lot of fun to own my own paper, so I had that as a dream, and I did that for 26 years. And then I got out of the newspaper business and became a journalism educator, and here I am.
How did the Honor Code manifest during your time at Haverford? Did the Honor Code and the kind of Quaker ethics you absorbed at Haverford influence how you view the role of a journalist, then or today?
It certainly was alive and well then. I was on Honor Council, a secretary on Students’ Council…and so it was a part of my life, but I can’t in honesty say that it was something I had in the front of my mind when we were putting out my newspaper. It was there and certainly part of my life.
But you know, we put out an April Fools’ Day issue that I’m sure raised questions of ethics…and the President felt we had to apologize to the president of Bryn Mawr…so I’m sure there were people that felt my performance raised questions about whether I lived by the Code or not.
As the editor of the Southbridge Evening News you were known for cultivating newsroom diversity as well as quality, local journalism. Why do you think it’s valuable for journalism students to report for a local paper?
I think local newspaper have the advantage of providing a face-to-face experience. In a small time, just contrasting a small-town newspaper to The Washington Post, if you walk into the building there’s a security desk up front, and you can’t get to the newsroom without being invited up there. In a smaller community, people walk right into the newsroom and tell you how they feel about the news you’ve written. And that has it’s benefit when you’re learning – if you make a mistake, you feel the consequences from the individuals, because its a smaller community, people know each other, you’re dealing with people’s reputations, and you feel it. And the good thing about being in a local situation is it’s inevitable you will make mistakes – and it’s not threatening your career.
Local media anticipate this will happen with young reporters – it happens. Whereas if you’re at a metropolitan paper, you make a couple of mistakes and…it might be held against you in a big way. I think also a local news organization provides opportunities for covering anything and everything. You’re going to be on general assignment. That’s great – every day you’re going to be covering a different type of institution.
For some young people, unpaid internships can be a barrier to getting newsroom experience during college. Do you think it prevents diversity in the newsroom?
I think it doesn’t help. I haven’t done any research on it. First of all, we had paid internships at the Southbridge Evening News. Obviously it doesn’t help encourage a diverse staff in terms of economic status and essentially you’re screening out students who cannot afford to work for free, and that’s not good. It’s not to the credit of the industries that are represented, as to whether it’s broadcast or print.
I remember, when I went into academe, being shocked in Atlanta when a very profitable television station, owned by the same company that owned the daily newspaper in Atlanta, said it would not pay for summer interns, when the newspaper owned by the same company would..and so I went down to talk to the management, and it was quite clear they were not going to change their position, and they didn’t need to. There were so many students who would work for them for free. And that was the pattern in broadcast. It is an issue. Do I think it’s likely to change in the near future? No, I don’t. Just because of the financial condition of many of the news organizations right now, and it seems to have become even more of an expectation, that people intern before they become full-time employees. They don’t take chances anymore, on anyone. It’s a risk-averse enviornment.
A lot of people enter journalism at different times in their life and through different career paths. Do you think the popularity of journalism schools is changing that? What are the pros and cons of J-school?
I think the pros: since journalism is more multimedia than it was when I was coming out at Haverford, if you haven’t been in that kind of environment, you can diminish your ignorance about the technical stuff, and being able to report for audio and video as well as for text. And you can do it in a relatively quick period of time. The graduate program [at Northwestern] – some people do it in three quarters. I think if you’re coming out of college, or go to work after college, it could offer a quick fix for a person who needs the technical skills.
But, I mean the downside is, I still think a liberal arts education is extremely important. And journalism schools require that only 25 percent of your courses are in journalism. The students are very good, 75 percent of their courses are not in journalism and they often double major in political science or history…so it’s not as if they’re limited to journalism. So I can go either way on this question. I think you can get into journalism, and not go to journalism school, but it may make it easier to.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
Well, I still regard [journalism] as a calling. And a great place for intelligent people to learn – it’s a lot of fun. I was just interviewing at lunch a Catholic who is among a group of women who have been named priests…even though they have been excommunicated by the Roman Catholic church. And where else do you get paid to do this kind of thing? I don’t think it’s easy for the obvious reasons, in terms of financial support, but if you can find a way into it, and make a living out of it, it’s a wonderful life.
“Inside My Office: Loren Ghiglione,” on the North by Northwestern (independent student newspaper) website
An interview with On the Media
Traveling with Twain - Ghiglione and two Northwestern students followed “the path that a young Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) took by stagecoach, steamship and train during trips east to New York, south to New Orleans and west to San Francisco during the 1850s and 1860s.”