Senior Associate Dean for Journalism, Northwestern University in Qatar, Associate Professor
Richard J. Roth is the senior associate dean at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. He is also an associate professor and, as such, teaches writing and reporting, which is where his career began in 1971 at the Buffalo (N.Y.) Courier-Express. It was near there, in the remote village of Attica, N.Y.,in his rookie year as a reporter, that Roth became involved in the bloodiest prison riot in American history and there to which he has returned many times for research about that prison and that village.
Roth was one of two newspaper reporters inside the prison yard at Attica during the Sept. 9-13 riots in 1971, serving on the Select Observers Committee. His work earned him a 1972 nomination for the Pulitzer Prize. Roth remained at the Buffalo newspaper until it ceased publication in 1982. He then was named editor in chief of the newspaper at Terre Haute, Ind., home of the nation's only federal death chamber.
After six years in Terre Haute, Roth was named an associate professor at DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind. He left DePauw after seven years and with tenure to work at the then-new Wall Street Journal interactive edition, before accepting the associate dean's position at Northwestern in the summer of 1998. Along the way, he has also been international vice-president at-large of The Newspaper Guild, a governor's appointee to the Indiana Oversight Commission on Public Records, president of the Indiana Associated Press Managing Editors association, president of the Terre Haute Symphony Orchestra Association board, national Education Committee chairman for the Society of Professional Journalists, and now is on the national SPJ board of directors as Region 5 (Indiana, Illinois and Kentucky) director. He grew up in Indiana and earned degrees from Indiana University and Indiana State University.
When I was a newspaper editor in the 1980s, I spent a significant portion of each day in the "outfield" of my newspaper's newsroom. The "outfield" is where reporters work, away from the editors who mercilessly pillage, plunder and rape reporters' stories, away from those butchers who change carefully crafted poetry to journalese, away from those office-bound 9-to-5ers who insert the errors and write the misleading headlines that readers and sources invariably blame on reporters.
I had toiled in one of those outfields during my years in Buffalo. I knew the culture and the opinions that outfielders had of editors. The day I was appointed editor-in-chief of the newspapers in Terre Haute, Ind., was the day I decided I would be unlike every other editor I had known: I decided I would roam the outfield, not send in messages for reporters to come out. I'd risk going in alone. In fact, the very day in 1983 that I arrived in Terre Haute, I went into the outfield, walking tall. I felt more at home in an outfield than sitting in an office negotiating with syndicate salesmen and union leaders and miserly publishers. Immediately, I felt genuinely welcomed. Reporters -- I knew this, but had never identified it as such -- wanted feedback, but had never received it. Reporters had grown use to picking up the newspaper the next morning and seeing how their stories had been changed, and never getting an explanation for the changes; the pell-mell pace of publishing a daily newspaper was the accepted explanation for everything. When I pulled up a chair and sat at a reporter's elbow, I could feel the reporter reaching out; from across the room I could see the cadre of copy editors whispering and pointing. There were times when my instant feedback consisted of telling the reporter that what he had written was "crap," but more often I searched out a reporter who seemed to be struggling with the process of writing and helped him or her find a focus. No matter my reaction, reporters welcomed it. When I saw errors, no matter how small, on the reporters' green-and-black computer screens, I pointed them out and talked them out. I let the reporters make the changes, depriving those copy editors the sinister pleasure of doing so.
I was editor in title, but teacher in practice. And it was, I later learned, that very newsroom demeanor that caused a former colleague to send me in late 1989 a copy of an announcement that DePauw University was seeking someone to teach newswriting and to serve as adviser to the student newspaper. "This," his note said to me, "is you."
I didn't know at first if I could "teach," at least in the traditional way I envisioned teaching. Long lectures and red pens were things I loathed as a student. Then I realized that it was as a student that I was trained to be an outfielder, to sit dutifully in my place and submit story after story to be marked wrong.
When I heard that DePauw's style was more akin to my style, I embraced it. My way of teaching -- there and here at Northwestern -- is to try to help students build confidence in themselves and in their abilities. I do that mostly by coaxing, through gently inducing them to wade into uncharted waters with me. Yes, I go with them. We hold hands and together stick out our feet to feel for the bottom: "What if. . ." they ask, and I say, "I don't know . . . it didn't feel like this the last time we were here. Something's different; I can't tell what. What do you think? We've only got 15 minutes 'til deadline and we have to make a decision!"
My view is that we sink or swim together.
Courses Taught in the Last 3 Years
Edit 421 -- "Urban Issues." Served as an editor/teacher working one-on-one with graduate students in our Chicago newsroom. Winter 2005, Spring 2004, Winter 2004.
Edit 201 -- Medill's introductory course called "Editing & Writing the News." I gave the weekly lectures in Fall 2004 and Fall 2005.
Edit 301 -- "News Writing & Reporting," a sophomore-level course where students learn the art and craft of reporting.
Edit 400 -- "Journalism Methods." Co-taught with Asst. Prof. Janice Castro one section of Medill's introductory quarter (nee Boot Camp) for its graduate journalism students.
Research interests include: newspaper management, prisons, and the art & craft of writing itself.
Delivered a lecture at the Nordic Media Festival in Bergen, Norway, in May 2006 and, while in Norway, spoke to students at universities in three cities -- Bergen, Oslo and Volda; lectured at seven universities in five cities in the Republic of Korea and gave the keynote address to the Korea Press Foundation's annual conference, September 2005, all at the request of the U.S. Department of State; Faculty Adviser (with the late, great Jim Carey of Columbia University) for the Project for Excellence in Journalism's Thinking Clearly book of journalism case studies (Columbia University Press, 2003); Author, Introduction to Teaching Notes for Thinking Clearly: Cases in Journalistic Decision-Making, by Rosenstiel and Mitchell. Columbia University Press, 2003.
Awards / Professional Organizations
National Board member (Region 5 Director), the Society of Professional Journalists, elected in 2004 and re-elected in 2006; faculty adviser, the Northwestern University student chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, 1999-present; chief judge, Inland Press Association, Front Page Contest, 2001-present; chief judge, Boating Writers International Excellence in Boating Journalism contest, 2003-present;moderator, Federal Communications Commission Midwest Public Forum on Media Ownership, Northwestern University School of Law, April 2, 2002
Voted to the "Faculty and Administrator Honor Roll" by the Northwestern University student body, 2004, for excellence in teaching.