J-School Centennial Experience

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1908, The Scene

Posted by Becky Dale on September 10, 2008

Journalism Centennial attendees share lunch before the Scholarly Symposium begins.

The chatter of happily-returned alumni filled the banquet hall of the Reynolds Alumni Center creating the trademark Midwestern atmosphere of friendliness and welcome. The somewhat eclectic mix of people all had at least one thing in common–the historical beginnings of journalism at the University of Missouri-Columbia. Dean Mills introduced Betty Winfield, one of the authors of Journalism, 1908: Birth of a Profession, to the “party of [his] closest friends.”

Winfield proceeded to share with her captive audience “what journalism was in 1908.” Thirteen of the book chapter authors were present to hear the lecture on their own hard work, most of them former students and currently professors at MU or elsewhere.

After a short break for everyone to fill his or her stomach with anything from roasted potatoes to ratatouille to steak and sweet pepper marmalade, Betty Winfield took the podium again. While Mizzou as the home of the first School of Journalism is a celebrated fact, its rough beginnings are less well-known. It all began with the question: Is journalism a trade or a profession?

When circulation wars and muckraking gave journalism a shamefully bad name, the “need for specialized formal education and national standards” moved to the foreground. Walter Williams in May 1908 asked for the Missouri Method, a clinic supplemented to the classroom, giving students a hands-on opportunity to practice their skills in the real world. The method caught on, and various specialized departments sprung up in multiple cities.

The University Missourian, with its first edition printed in the fall of 1908, came into being during a very political year, yet still managed to focus on local news. The bankruptcy of the Missouri Theater made the front page.

Betty Winfield concluded with notes on the perseverance of the press despite its political bias, and chapter author Sandy Davidson picked up with the media laws in 1908. She shared anecdotes through laws on obscenity, privacy, and libel. With stories about whiskey ads in newspapers and the Reverend Jellyfish, Davidson drew several laughs from the audience.

As Betty Winfield adjourned the symposium for a break before the next session, the happy murmuring restarted. A steady, polite buzz of conversation was interspersed with hand shakes and exclamations of delight at the unexpected presence of various other people. The Centennial was off to a great start this first day. From the mood of the audience, it should continue through the rest of the week.

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