J-School Centennial Experience

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1908, the Scene

Posted by Michael Anderson on September 10, 2008

Batting lead off for the Centennial, Dean Mills, Betty Winfield and Sandy Davidson entertainingly enlightened a diverse crowd at the Reynolds Alumni Center this afternoon with brief anecdotes revolving around their recently published book, Journalism-1908: Birth of a Profession.

“It is always good to see so many familiar faces back home,” Mills said, leading off what he regarded as the journalism school’s first large-scale party since the “On the Beat” lock-in. Yet, despite the exciting atmosphere anticipated throughout the week, the Scholarly Symposium joined hundreds of former students in an intimate and enthralling story-telling environment.

Next to speak, Winfield excitedly reminded everyone of the University’s excellent tradition of professional education. It was her duty to explain the roots of the elite program by creating a “once upon a time” atmosphere and taking the crowd back to the momentous movements in the field of journalism in 1908.

However, before Winfield dove to deeply into her speech, the crowd was much delighted to hear “Let’s Eat!” After filing through a sizzling buffet of assorted salads and vegetables, white lasagna with chicken truffle cream sauce and marinated grilled flank steak with sweet pepper marmalade, the crowd conversed for nearly fifteen minutes sharing everything from old college legends to their views on the national political scene.

Yet, when the feasting was over, everyone anxiously awaited Winfield’s informative speech on the rise of journalistic professionalism in the onset of the twentieth century. It began as an era in which journalists sued journalists, muckrakers went too far and print corruption halted progression rather than inspire reform. Even Walter Williams restrained from calling journalists professionals, for they had no formal training prior to joining a paper’s pay roll.

Thus, he launched the Missouri school of journalism, originally consisting of only 64 students including six women and many Chinese. The program blossomed at a critical time, amidst the presidential race between William Howard Taft and William Jennings Bryan. As Thomas Jefferson once said, “No government should run without censors,” the paper served as a watchdog for each member’s campaign.

Rounding out the Centennial’s first speaker series, media law Professor Sandy Davidson explained the controversies surrounding print laws in the early 1900’s. “If you enjoy eating sawdust without butter, you will enjoy studying the law,” she whimsically began. Her short stories, including the Reverend Jellyfish, whiskey ads and a writer for the Los Angeles based “The Record” suing her own paper, creatively elucidated the obscenity, privacy and libel laws of the era.

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