Jim Memmott is a journalism professor at UR, teaching journalism courses including “Reporting and Writing in the News,” “Feature Writing,” “Editing” and “Case Studies in Journalism.” He is also a connections columnist at the Democrat and Chronicle and has served as both reporter and editor to the Times-Union and as a Senior Editor at the D&C.

What types of journalism principles do you teach in your classes?

We do the basic reporting in the fall, then move on to feature writing in the spring, as well as editing (every other year). The purpose of all of this is not to turn out journalists, though quite a few students do become reporters and editors. I just try to give people exposure to a different kind of writing and to some issues in journalism.

Your academic background is in Faulkner; what interests you about his literature?

I was drawn to his creation of fictional communities, fictional families, his astonishing sense of history and place. I did my dissertation on revenge themes in Faulkner, an odd sort of a study for an essentially timid scholar, but I liked it and found it rewarding. His writing, of course, is totally non-journalistic. He would never give away the news in the first sentence, or even the first half, of a novel. He lets it sneak up on you and grab you by the throat.

How did you make the transition from literature to journalism?

It happened almost by accident. I was teaching American Literature at St. Lawrence University in the 1970s and a colleague who was teaching the one journalism course retired. My department chairman noticed I subscribed to the New York Times, so he asked if I wanted to teach journalism. I said I would on the condition that I could go back to the University of Minnesota in the summer (I was going anyway to defend my dissertation) and take a couple of courses in journalism. I did that and came back and started teaching, pretty much bluffing my way along.

But once I was teaching journalism, I found I liked it. So I started freelancing for newspapers while teaching, doing feature stories on odd things and sometimes odd people in the North County. And then I quit my teaching job and went out and looked for a reporting job. I got lucky and was hired in Rochester as a suburban reporter.

What advice would you give to students interested in journalism?

Advising students or anyone about journalism these days is tricky, as the business is changing so much. I would say you have to write as much as you can, and you have to read a lot.

But now, too, it helps if you can take pictures, edit film, do sound recording and post Web pages, as reporting has to serve the newspaper and the newspaper’s webpage. Most of the students, of course, can do all these multimedia things much better than I can.

Rybczyk is a member of the class of 2011.



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