Help me help Journalism

2/29/2008 - By: Scott Gayer

It's not every day that you meet someone working his or her dream job.

Jerry Ceppos, new dean of the Reynolds School of Journalism is one of those people.

"It's really been a longtime dream to work at a journalism school," Ceppos said of the job he started Feb. 4.

After spending much of his career in the world of newspapers from 1969 through 2005, Ceppos said that his conversations around the office and school are now pleasantly different. Whereas many of the discussions at work used to center on profit and loss as well as journalism, Ceppos is now enthralled by all the positive philosophizing he gets to hear from students and faculty about the craft itself.

"There's still a lot of people who love journalism, and I'm one of them," Ceppos said.

His longtime affinity for the craft of journalism manifests itself beyond statements like these. Even while working as an adjunct professor at San Jose State University last semester and at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University for most of 2007 as a fellow in media ethics, Ceppos continued to submit opinion pieces to local newspapers. His favorite topic of discussion has always been the development and practice of media ethics.

He doesn't plan to stop writing at Nevada.

'Tell the story of everybody to everybody'

Among the major changes that Ceppos hopes to spearhead in the journalism school is a commitment to diversity. He also wants to explore options in improving the school's involvement with environmental journalism, based on its geographic location and the recent work of the graduate journalism program.

His motivation behind his push for diversity comes from his own experience at the San Jose Mercury News. During his time as the executive editor from 1995 to 1999, he saw the paper improve tremendously as the staff became more diverse under his tenure. From his standpoint, journalists have "to tell the story of everybody to everybody." He now wants to see a similar vision carried out within the faculty and students who frequent the Reynolds School of Journalism each day.

"In today's world, the world is full of diverse faces," said Ceppos. "For journalists to understand diversity is more important than for anyone else."

Critical thinking as well as accuracy and ethics are tenets that Ceppos also wants to continue to instill in the students who graduate from the Reynolds School in the future. Despite the ever-changing landscape of the media, Ceppos still wants students to internalize the essence of such values. At the same time, he also wants to prepare students to easily adapt to changes in media technology and practices with each new wave of innovation.

Ceppos has also been impressed by the caliber of the faculty he now oversees. The mix of people with strong academic and professional backgrounds brings a well-balanced intellectual rigor to the school. He's also excited that the journalism school houses half of all the endowed chairs in the University community. The close relationships that already exist among many of the journalism faculty and students has also inspired Ceppos to foster similar relationships as he enters into the school’s tight-knit community.

"Too many schools lose sight of students and students are what it's all about," he said.

A natural busybody

In describing his original attraction to journalism Ceppos' answer was simple.

"I thought it was a great way to be nosy," he said. "You can poke your head into anything. I can't think of anything more fun."

Ceppos said that his career highlights, aside from his recent appointment, have come during his first reporting job in Rochester, N.Y. from 1969 to 1972 and serving as the executive editor for the Mercury News. He also served as the vice president for news for Knight Ridder from 1999 to 2005. After reflecting on what made reporting and editing stand out in his mind, he said reporting was some of the purest fun he's ever had and being the editor of a major newspaper was some of the best work he's ever been called to.

He's also learned a lot about humility. This is because he has seen it prove itself to be one of the media's greatest assets when trying to build trust with its audiences.

"Readers respect you when you admit mistakes," he said.

As for pet peeves, he absolutely despises poor spelling, as any former editor might, and he still calls the Mercury News to berate the paper whenever he catches an error.

In addition to having an understanding of the media, Ceppos also describes himself as a "wine freak" and a huge fan of contemporary art.

He shares his love for such hobbies with his wife who holds a doctorate in library and information science from U.C. Berkeley. His 18-year-old son, Matt, is a freshman at Humboldt State University while his 16-year-old daughter, Robin, is a junior in high school.

Ceppos remains unsatisfied with the things he hasn't experienced in Nevada. Although he has been to Lake Tahoe for skiing many winters, he has already scheduled plans to experience the largest city in Nevada for the first time.

"I just want to soak up Nevada," Ceppos said. "I have never been to Las Vegas."

Return to the University of Nevada, Reno website.


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