UNC’s School of Journalism and Media gets largest gift ever and a new name

Integrity, credibility and fearlessness will guide the students and the faculty of the newly named University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media.

With a $25 million endowed gift, the largest in the school’s history, Carolina alumnus Walter Hussman Jr. and his family are investing in the future of journalism with hopes of restoring the public’s trust in the media.

“I think the solution is to get back to these bedrock values of journalism,” said Hussman, chairman of WEHCO Media Inc., which owns newspapers, magazines and cable television companies in six states. “To explain to the public this is what we believe and let them know what we believe.”

Hussman’s core values of impartiality, credibility and truth are printed in every issue of the family’s 10 newspapers and will be etched in granite at the entrance of Carroll Hall, home to UNC’s award winning and nationally recognized journalism program.

The Hussman School will be the fifth named school at Carolina, along with the Kenan-Flagler Business School, Gillings School of Global Public Health, Eshelman School of Pharmacy and Adams School of Dentistry.

Susan King, dean of the Hussman School, said this gift means this school will be an “important player on UNC’s campus for generations to come” and rise to the highest ranks of journalism and media schools around the country.

“This name means our values are clear and our commitment to responsible, ethical communications in the digital age are firm,” King said. “And it says our faculty, staff and alumni should have the confidence that despite the challenges, we are up for them. And we are going to persevere in the digital age with values, innovation and determination.”

King and Hussmans.JPG
Images of Walter Hussman and his wife, Ben, meeting with Susan King, the dean of UNC’s School of Media and Journalism, at their home in Carmel, California, on August 6, 2019. The School of Media and Journalism will now be known as the Hussman School of Journalism and Media following a $25 million gift by alumnus Walter Hussman. (Johnny Andrews/UNC-Chapel Hill) Johnny Andrews/UNC-Chapel Hill

More than a gift for journalism school

King also recognized this donation as not just a gift, but also a powerful moment for the school and the profession.

“When the economic challenges facing journalism and even the kind of questions about trust in the profession is at such a high decibel level, to have someone actually invest in our school and the industry says pages and pages about the importance of journalism in a democracy,” King said. “The timing of this one to me is really powerful.”

The endowed funds didn’t come with strings attached, King said, but the money will be invested into the quality of education and values that guide it. That will include recruiting and retaining the best faculty, staff, and resources for students, she said.

“[Our] students are always going to be at the top of their game in terms of opportunities,” King said, “whether it’s immersive experiences, experiential learning or global opportunities, we’re going to be able to do it.”

Carolina’s journalism program officially began in 1924 as a department in the College of Arts & Sciences, according to UNC. In 1950, it was designated as a professional school and now launches thousands of students into careers in journalism, public relations, advertising and other communications fields.

“At this moment to have someone make a gift of this consequence to us is exhilarating and that’s what makes it different than other gifts,” King said. “This should give everyone here at the school and in our alumni confidence that the qualities of a great journalism school will survive into the end of the 21st century.”

Investing in the future of the family business

Hussman majored in journalism and graduated from Carolina in 1968, then earned an MBA at Columbia University in 1970. He built his career in journalism, which was the family business.

Hussman’s grandfather, Clyde Palmer, bought the family’s first newspaper in 1909 and ran that publication and four other daily newspapers for nearly 50 years. Hussman said his parents met at the University of Missouri’s journalism school and continued the tradition of working in the newspaper business and expanded it to radio and television.

Hussman followed suit, working at the Camden News as a 10-year-old, studying journalism at UNC, working as a reporter at Forbes Magazine, becoming publisher of the Arkansas Democrat at 27 and then serving as president of WEHCO Media. In recent decades, the company, which stands for Walter E. Hussman Company, acquired several local newspapers in Arkansas, Tennessee and Missouri. The company now owns dozens of media outlets in six states.

Hussman was an NC Media and Journalism Hall of Fame honoree in 2014 and named a distinguished alumnus of UNC in 2009. He was Editor and Publisher magazine’s Publisher of the Year in 2008. He has served as president of the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association and on the boards of the Associated Press and C-SPAN, according to UNC.

Hussman’s children Palmer Hussman, Olivia Ramsey and Eliza Gaines have also contributed to the family business at WEHCO. Olivia and Eliza both graduated from Carolina in 2009 and Eliza returned to earn her master’s degree from the journalism school in 2012.

Hussman told UNC that this gift “honors the four generations of his family who have dedicated their lives to news and journalism.”

“We feel really honored that the UNC school of journalism would ask us to have our name associated with it,” Hussman said. “I know it’s one of the top journalism schools in America.”

He said Carolina is where he learned those core values of journalism and he hopes this investment will inspire other schools and news organizations to follow UNC’s commitment to them.

In full, the Hussman family newspapers’ — and now UNC’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media’s — core values read:

Impartiality means reporting, editing, and delivering the news honestly, fairly, objectively, and without personal opinion or bias.

Credibility is the greatest asset of any news medium, and impartiality is the greatest source of credibility.

To provide the most complete report, a news organization must not just cover the news, but uncover it. It must follow the story wherever it leads, regardless of any preconceived ideas on what might be most newsworthy.

The pursuit of truth is a noble goal of journalism. But the truth is not always apparent or known immediately. Journalists’ role is therefore not to determine what they believe at that time to be the truth and reveal only that to their readers, but rather to report as completely and impartially as possible all verifiable facts so that readers can, based on their own knowledge and experience, determine what they believe to be the truth.

When a newspaper delivers both news and opinions, the impartiality and credibility of the news organization can be questioned. To minimize this as much as possible there needs to be a sharp and clear distinction between news and opinion, both to those providing and consuming the news.

Related stories from Raleigh News & Observer

Kate Murphy covers higher education for The News & Observer. Previously, she covered higher education for the Cincinnati Enquirer on the investigative and enterprise team and USA Today Network. Her work has won state awards in Ohio and Kentucky and she was recently named a 2019 Education Writers Association finalist for digital storytelling.
Support my work with a digital subscription