Department honors era of excellence in journalism

By Ashley Yeaman

The journalism, public relations and new media department will commemorate its legacy of journalism education with a series of events today and Friday.

The celebration will focus on the classes of 1958 to 1976, collectively known as the David Cheavens-David McHam era.

The late Dr. David Cheavens served as chair of the journalism department from 1962 to 1970. He had previously worked for the Associated Press in Dallas and later became the chief of the capital bureau for the AP in Austin.

Cheavens hired the 1958 Baylor graduate Dr. David McHam, who taught at Baylor from 1961 to 1974. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the start of McHam’s education career. McHam also worked for The Waco News-Tribune, Houston Post and Dallas Times Herald.

Cheavens and McHam brought their journalism experiences from the field to the department, said Mike Blackman, the Fred Hartman Distinguished Professor in Journalism.

“To suddenly have two working professionals come into a small department just lent a skill set that really helped,” Blackman said. “The students benefited. It was a good department already, but it just upped it another notch, another level, to provide an even deeper set of skills training.”

Blackman, a 1967 alumnus, said McHam was a tough but also compassionate professor who cared about students.

“He was the most no-nonsense, toughest teacher with a big heart that I ever had,” Blackman said. “He stressed the basics so much. He just impressed over and over that we have to take care of the little details and always be accurate. He had a way of explaining storytelling that made you want to do it well. He was a remarkable teacher.”

Cheavens also had a reputation of being an excellent educator.

“He knew his stuff, and he was in that first reporting class exactly what I needed,” Blackman said. “He was also a teacher that made it all make sense, as in how from a news perspective we wanted to approach stories. We knew that if we could please Dr. Cheavens, we had done OK.”

Cheavens’ daughter, Alice Baird, said many former students have told her how her father impacted them.

“He was very beloved and well-respected by his students,” Baird said.

The journalism events will also celebrate the accomplished alumni from this time period, said Dr. Sara Stone, professor of journalism and director of journalism undergraduate studies.

“We have a number of very impressive graduates from the department — people who graduated in the ’50s, ’60s and early ’70s,” Stone said. “We’ve been talking for a long time about doing something to honor those people.”

One of the distinguished alumni from this era is Pat Dougherty, a Pulitzer Prize-winning editor of the Anchorage Daily News, who has also extensively covered former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

Dougherty will lead a political discussion from 2 to 3 p.m. today in 245 Castellaw Communications Center. The discussion is open to the public.

There will be a private dinner and ceremony at 6 p.m. today in the Barfield Drawing Room at the Bill Daniel Student Center, honoring the 50th anniversary of the Cheavens-McHam era and celebrating journalism graduates from 1958 to 1976.

On Friday, the journalism department will sponsor a panel discussion that includes leading sportswriters and commentators.

The event will take place from 10 a.m. to noon in the Baines Room at the Bill Daniel Student Center. Panelists include moderator David Pickle, NCAA director of digital communications; Dave Campbell, sports editor and writer for the Waco Tribune-Herald and founder of Texas Football Magazine; David McCollum, sports columnist at the Log Cabin Democrat in Conway, Ark.; and Eddie Sefko, NBA writer for the Dallas Morning News.

A second panel discussion titled “Can Freedom of Information Survive U.S. Democracy (and Politics)?” will be from 1 to 2:30 p.m. in the Jim Kronzer Appellate Advocacy Classroom and Courtroom (room 127) at the Sheila and Walter Umphrey Law Center.

Featured panelists will be Judge Ken Starr, president of Baylor and the Louise L. Morrison chair of constitutional law at the Sheila and Walter Umphrey Law Center; moderator Tony Pederson, Belo distinguished chair of journalism at Southern Methodist University; Kenneth Bunting, executive director of the National Freedom of Information Coalition; Charles L. Overby, former chair and CEO of the Newseum, Freedom Forum and Diversity Institute; and Thomas J. Williams, partner of the Haynes and Boone Law Firm.