Cole C. Campbell, dean of the Donald W. Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno died Friday, January
5, 2007, in a single vehicle crash on icy roads as he drove to work. His father was my childhood priest, so my acquaintance
with the family lasts more than 35 years. Seven years my senior, Campbell was a peer of my sister and not someone I ever recall
actually talking to before the December 2006 funeral for his father. As a wayward journalism student, I found Campbell’s
legendary intelligence and professional successes intimidating. Still, I kept up with his career through his sister, a friend
of mine, and my own tenuous ties to journalism.
Some years ago, I read a fascinating analysis (1) of Campbell’s troubled tenure as editor in chief at the St. Louis
Post-Dispatch. With news of his death, I now read a number of laudatory remembrances alluding to Campbell’s visionary,
some say radical, approaches to rethinking the meaning of newspapers. In death, it seems, Campbell’s ideas are gaining
acknowledgment, acceptance and endorsement.
Campbell did not invent revisioning the role of newspapers and media (much of that discourse occurred within academic settings),
although this industry maverick certainly advocated and engineered change in the newsrooms he directed. As an industry, news
media, Campbell felt, became an elite entity, insulated from the public it served (1). His radical restructurings, that now
seem less precarious than prescient, sought to break barriers and build more equitable partnerships between the press and
public. In the 2004 National Civic Review article "Journalism and public knowledge," Campbell describes his philosophy:
News organizations are well positioned to sponsor such intercommunicating public knowledge enterprises, but
only if we journalists are willing to act as partners with our readers, viewers, listeners, and browsers (in a word, our citizens).
Newsrooms understand how to take expert knowledge and make it more comprehensible to nonexperts. We are beginning to understand
the ins and outs of information technology and the Web. We also have some grasp--albeit uneven--of community and democracy.
In community after community, journalists could bring together citizens and practitioners from various disciplines in communitywide
initiatives to develop and apply public knowledge to public problems. We could engage citizens, community activists, and experts
in our daily routines or through special programs. (2)
Not everyone shared Campbell’s enthusiastic vision of reinventing journalism to create a shared relationship among media
and its consumers. In a caustic 1999 critique, Don Corrigan skeptically assesses some of Campbell’s changes while editor
of the St. Louis Post Dispatch, “It could easily be said that Campbell's chief contribution to the Post since his arrival
has been the imposition of a perpetual 'not fully finished state of understanding’ within the newsroom.' (3) Indeed,
Campbell’s experiments at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (and the Virginian Pilot before that) resulted in
much study on how his newsroom changes affected morale (4), circulation and the paper’s reputation in the community.
With Campbell’s death come both lavish praise and measured remembrances from peers and friends (5). Greensboro News
and Record Editor John Robinson, who Campbell hired during his tenure there in the 1980s, fondly recalled his friend and
mentor essentially as a media futurist.
Unlike so many of us, Cole could see around the corner and tried to prepare us all for what was coming. He
was writing about what we now call citizen journalism years ago. He was an early predictor of the vast expansion of news options
citizens would have and encouraged newspapers to understand their new role. He understood that journalism is the key; the
newspaper is just a delivery mechanism. Most important, he encouraged journalists to think of readers not as passive news
consumers but as citizens participating in the life of the community. (6)
As William Hazlitt wrote, about the death of Lord Byron, "Death cancels everything but truth; and strips a man of everything
but genius and virtue….We consign the least worthy qualities to oblivion, and cherish the nobler and imperishable nature
with double pride and fondness."
(1) Wilson, D. J., “Lost at Sea: Editor Cole Campbell has left in his dinghy, and the mutineers at the Post-Dispatch
are jubilant. Now, the flagship is listing and the crew has no idea where it's headed.” Riverfront Times (June 7, 2000).
Available from Riverfront Times online archive, accessed 26 January 2007, available from http://www.riverfronttimes.com/Issues/2000-06-07/news/feature2.html.
(2) Campbell, Cole C. "Journalism and public knowledge." National Civic Review 93.3 (Fall 2004): 3(8). Expanded Academic ASAP.
Thomson Gale. Univ of North Carolina - Chapel Hill. 2 Feb. 2007, accessed 27 January 2006, available from http://find.galegroup.com/itx/infomark.do?&contentSet=IAC-Documents&type=retrieve&tabID=T002&prodId=EAIM&docId=A125067123&source=gale&srcprod=EAIM&userGroupName=unc_davis&version=1.0.
(3) Corrigan, Don, “Campbell uses Post as guinea pig.” The St. Louis Journalism Review (July/August 1999). Accessed
26 January 2007, available from http://www.stljr.org/publicj/pj-pig.htm.
(4) Gade, Peter J. and Perry, Earnest L., “Changing the Newsroom Culture: A Four-Year Case Study of Organizational Development
at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.” Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly 80:2 (Summer 2003): 327-347. Accessed 27
January 2007, available from http://list.msu.edu/cgi-bin/wa?A2=ind0109b&L=aejmc&T=0&P=10193.
(5) Legacy.com, “Guestbook for Cole Campbell,” (2007). Accessed 27 January 2007, available from http://www.legacy.com/GB/GuestbookView.aspx?PersonId=85861561.
(6) Robinson, John, “Peering around corners: Cole Campbell's legacy.” News and Record (6 January 2007). Accessed
27 January 2007, available from http://blog.news-record.com/staff/jrblog/archives/2007/01/my_newspaper_co_18.html.