John Ginn will give his newspaper management, editorial writing and media ethics students at Kansas University a dose of reality this semester.
"I'm going to use the case method for each course," said Ginn, the new Knight Foundation professor at KU and former publisher of the Anderson (S.C.) Independent-Mail.
"At Harvard business school there aren't any textbooks and there aren't any lectures," the Harvard grad said. "You just have cases . . . which are real-life circumstances or problems.
"You formulate your approach to solving it and go to class. You and your classmates essentially have a dialogue about what's the right answer. It's the most exciting, stimulating way I've ever studied," he said.
Ginn, 55, knew he wanted to work in newspapers since the age of 12. He's been in the business for 33 years, working as a reporter and editor in Missouri, North Carolina and Tennessee before becoming publisher of the Independent-Mail in 1974.
FOR SEVERAL years, he's had a yearning to teach. The professorship filled by Ginn is financed with a $1 million grant from the Knight Foundation of Miami. The foundation also set up professorships at Duke and Florida State.
Although the Knight Foundation provided the endowment to pay the salary of a new professor, KU selected the recipient of the tenured journalism professorship.
Part of Ginn's responsibility at KU will be to teach and direct programs that focus on community leadership roles available to newspapers.
"Newspapers often miss the opportunity to play a leadership role in the community," Ginn said. "In some cases there's disagreement on the right way to be a leader."
FOR EXAMPLE, he said, several Florida newspapers pooled their money and conducted a high-profile anti-gambling campaign several years ago.
"There were a lot of people who applauded what they did," he said. "And there were a lot of people who thought what they did was totally inappropirate and unethical for a newspaper."
Was it ethical? In Ginn's opinion, the newspapers' campaign was appropriate. Perhaps his media ethics class can tackle that case study.
While at the Independent-Mail, Ginn became involved in a sticky situation as chairman of the local chamber of commerce.
Anderson's economy had been hit hard by the textile industry's decline. The chamber chairmanship gave Ginn access to inside information about the city's effort to stimulate economic development.
"PEOPLE would tell me things about economic development in that city which they didn't want me to tell the newspaper," he said.
Ginn's solution was to abide by two rules. He promised not to reveal confidential information to the Independent-Mail. He also promised that the newspaper would publish that information if a reporter obtained it some other way.
"Sometimes people felt comfortable with that, sometimes not," he said.
Ginn said the Independent-Mail has been involved with the community for many years. Since 1974, the newspaper has conducted a fund-drive for needy families at Christmas. This year the drive generated $50,000.
"We put a story on the front page each day about a specific case to illustrate the need," he said. "It works."
The Independent-Mail also coordinated a program whereby all children in Anderson's fifth-grade classes received three free books. The program was designed to improve literacy.
"There aren't very many other institutions in the community that can do some of those things. The newspaper has easy access to readers and information," he said.