The irascibility factor at the University of Nevada, Reno journalism school has been lowered. Reno resident and faculty member for three decades, newly retired professor Jake Highton will be teaching only one class—Press Law—each semester from now on. He is the author of a dozen books, including the textbooks Reporter (McGraw Hill, 1978) and Editing (University Press, 1983) and a history of Nevada journalism, Nevada Newspaper Days (Heritage West, 1990). He is known as one of the institution’s most rigorous instructors, but the internet is full of tributes to him by former students. His newspaper column appears in the Sparks Tribune and at http://open.salon.com/blog/jake_highton.
What was your first job in journalism?
I wrote sports for the high school paper, and then I was sports editor for the Penn State Collegian, the daily newspaper. Now, there’s one thing that was very important. You know, I was in high school, I had a high school teacher who was very influential. She taught me the typewriter and also she taught me the love of English. … I went back and forth, back and forth between newspapering and teaching. … So ’55 I went to work for the Bristol Courier. … That’s on the eastern end of Pennsylvania. … I went to Oil City and worked for the Derrick as sportswriter, and then I went from there to become sports editor of the Franklin News Herald. … So then, I tried to get to Johns Hopkins University to go to school, graduate school, in education. …The advice I got was very good: “Come down here and teach … Then, if you like it, we’ll admit you to graduate school, OK?” I didn’t like it, so …
What did you do next?
Then I got a job at Wayne State University in Detroit. I taught journalism there, over 13 years. … I used to work for the Detroit News in the summer, to keep my hand in. And I worked for the Toledo Blade one summer. And two summers I worked on the copy desk of the Los Angeles Times. In other words, I just didn’t want education encrustation, as it were. I was still a newspaper man, and I loved newspapers. Anyway, when I came back to Wayne State University, one summer I was working on the copy desk in the Detroit News, and the editor said to me, “Jake, we’d like you to write editorials for us, full time.” I said, “I can’t write for you guys. I’m a liberal.” But they said, “You can write local editorials.” I said fine. … I could do no wrong to them and to my conscience on editorials locally. … I worked as a newspaper guy for roughly 15 years, and for the rest of the time—for roughly 40-some years—as a journalism teacher.
I’m told that you were a really tough grader.
Yes, I am, and I almost never give A’s. A means excellent. And few of my students have ever been excellent. A means excellent. B means good. … The fact is, I don’t give A’s. … I’m not excellent, but by God I demanded that they be excellent. So typically, if I had a class of 25 students, let’s say, in “Law of the Press” I might have one or two A’s, 5 or 6 B’s, and the rest C’s and a few D’s. So yes, I’m very tough.
What was your favorite job in journalism?
The best job was editorial writing because I’m a polemicist. I argue. And I love that opinion journalism. … That’s why [since 1989] I’ve been writing a column for the Sparks Tribune every Sunday. … And one thing about the Sparks Tribune, [it] printed my column when no one else would. I wish the Reno Gazette-Journal would print my column, but it’s just far too liberal, far too radical for them. … [The Tribune] printed my column word for word, and I’ll always be grateful that they printed it. … My sorrow is, it has no impact. … It just grieves me week after week after week, I write this serious stuff, this very thoughtful stuff, and nobody cares. And so, that’s the cross I bear. But at any rate, such is life.