A favorite teacher
By Don Muhm, 1952

From the first time we met, I sensed that there seemed to be something special about this certain journalism professor. And in a short time, I would realize that my hunch was right.

We first met at a get-together the first week of school and before classes really began. It was a session arranged for journalism students and was held in the Memorial Union.

In casual conversation with the professor, Rod Fox, whom I just met, I happened to mention that I had several feature stories published in the Mason City Globe Gazette. I recall that the professor knew the publication, its editors and all, but also that he had even worked there for a time.

Teacher Rod Fox at the head of a reporting class in 1957. Photo courtesy of Iowa State University Library/Special Collections Department.

I was really new to Iowa State (College back then) and had transferred from the junior college in my hometown of Britt, where I had graduated from high school, and where I had written a weekly school news column during my junior college years. I remember how the local newspaper editor scoffed at my plan to go to college to learn journalism.

“You can’t learn newspapering out of a book,” he told me. “You can’t learn how to do it in a classroom from a teacher who never worked on a paper.” Obviously, the old country editor felt you had to learn the business by doing it instead.

In our visit, I thought of what the old country editor had told me. But I didn’t say anything. Then all of a sudden Fox surprised me by suggesting that, because of my experience, I should sign up for the beginning reporting class taught by him and Ed Blinn. Further good news was that, enrolled in that class, I would become a reporter for the Iowa State Daily in only six weeks!

I couldn’t believe it. And here I had almost skipped that get-acquainted journalism party. Over time, I developed a tremendous respect for Fox as a teacher, as a journalism advocate without peer and as a friend. I appreciated his thoughtful notes when I worked years later for daily newspapers in the Midwest.

In the classroom, Fox seemed to relish lecturing about the greats of American journalism, the muckrakers of old, the pioneer editors who attacked with words and then were attacked in the street by irate readers using their canes. He encouraged his students to read books and learn more about things that would help them become better reporters and writers. He’d recommend books and even lend books to students out of his own library.

Rod Fox loved photography as well as words to better tell the story at hand, and he co-authored books focusing on how to use photos effectively in newspapers.

In the laboratory classes where reporters/students were assembled and make-believe stories were to be composed and then analyzed, Fox was extremely patient and offered criticism and suggestions on how to write better and more precisely. And many of us can recall a constant theme—“accuracy, accuracy and accuracy.” That should be the supreme target-goal for every journalist, he stressed time and time again.

Over the years there have been times when I observed or discovered sloppy or lazy reporting, much of it on TV, and read or heard news reports where basic questions were not answered, and I’d think of what Fox might say and how he always preached fairness, as well as accuracy.

And today in the wake of journalism ethics scandals in major-league journalistic arenas, I found myself again wondering what the old professor would have to say about big-time professional journalists fabricating articles, deliberately falsifying news stories and knowingly allowing misinformation and untruths to be published—or worse, stealing ideas, material or words from others and using them as their own.

In short, I well imagine that what the old professor might have to say about such cheating and unethical doings you couldn’t print in a family newspaper.

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