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
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
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
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 classroom, Fox seemed to relish lecturing about the greats of
American journalism, the muckrakers of old, the pioneer editors who attacked
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
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 the laboratory classes where reporters/students were assembled and
make-believe stories were to be composed and then analyzed, Fox was extremely
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
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