His ideas shine on

Cole Campbell, dean of UNR’s Reynolds School of Journalism, died in a car accident on Jan. 5.

In early December, I had a conversation with my boss Cole Campbell, dean of UNR’s Reynolds School of Journalism. My goal: Convince him not to sing the little ditty he’d sung in May with graduating seniors.

“Too juvenile,” I argued. “Too kindergarten Sunday School.” Campbell grinned and nodded. But as the son of an Episcopal minister, he knew the power inherent in a song with sticky lyrics and simple melody.

On Dec. 9, Campbell addressed the graduating class of journalism students for what would be his last time. He told them that it’s OK to toot their horns, to be proud of accomplishments and to use ideas learned in college to better their worlds. “That’s why we’re going to sing,” he said, holding up his finger. “This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine.”

Dressed in caps and gowns and assembled in the journalism school atrium for a pre-ceremony photograph, students chuckled. And sang. Awkwardly, at first. Then with gusto. Some swayed and clapped.

Let it shine.

Campbell, 53, died Friday morning when his SUV hit an icy patch and flipped over. He was on his way to school to meet with a student.

Campbell was hired as journalism dean in 2004. He’d been editor of the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot and of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

A New York Times obituary called Campbell “one of the first newspaper editors to embrace the idea that journalism should help readers be engaged citizens.” This idea about civic journalism may be viewed suspiciously by news vets trained to believe that news gathering and reporting are best accomplished without such goals.

Campbell, an unabashed optimist, believed that dialogue about our struggling profession needed to continue. He was at work on a doctoral degree in “Public Discourse and Democratic Practice.” Reno’s journalism school proved flexible enough to experiment with using technology to engage citizens in conversations and in the democratic process.

“Journalism matters,” Campbell said. “Journalism schools are a great place to think through the struggles and preserve—and enhance—what matters.”

Let it shine.

Campbell, avid reader and thinker, leaves an office stacked high with books and papers in various states of disarray. He called this “intellectual mulch.” Campbell leaves a faculty with missions to accomplish and big ideas on which to chew.

Recently, he’d copied an inspirational bit, listing nouns in all caps: “LUST * PASSION * GREED * GRAVITY * RIVERS * EARTHQUAKES * TSUNAMIS * IDEAS * IDEOLOGY * IMAGINATION * WAR * FAMINE * PESTILENCE * DISEASE.” The caption read: “Many forces have shaped the world. We specialize in two.” Highlighted were “IDEAS” and “IMAGINATION.”

Let it shine.