Black Press to Occupy Wing in the Building
Howard University has embarked upon an aggressive fund-raising campaign to raise $75 million to build a new home for the John H. Johnson School of Communications.
The storied journalism school is currently housed in a converted hospital built after the Civil War. University officials want a modern facility that will give students a competitive edge in today’s changing media market. They say the current facility is not flexible to keep up with the department’s changing technology needs.
The historically Black university recently launched the John H. Johnson Legacy campaign to secure funding for the new facility. University officials announced its efforts at the late Ebony/Jet publisher’s Chicago headquarters during the largest gathering of minority journalists at the quadrennial Unity: Journalists of Color convention.
Linda Johnson Rice, Johnson Publication’s president and CEO, was pleased that the university initiated the campaign in her father’s name. Johnson, who founded Ebony magazine in 1945, died in 2005. The new facility, Rice noted, is an extension of her father’s mission to foster Black entrepreneurship.
“The whole premise of our building is entrepreneurship combined with journalism...,” said Rice, who hosted a media reception for the school’s alumni during the convention that attracted 7,000 journalists nationwide.
“Those are the types of degrees they are going to have when they graduate from the John H. Johnson School,” she added. “We need to get the building built so there is a great facility for these students to learn.”
Although the building “is not as stellar as we would like it to be” the department has produced top journalism students, said Jannette L. Dates, Ph.D., the school’s communication dean. But the Internet, Dates noted, has changed the industry.
Print and broadcast journalism were separate entities, but now there is a convergence among them. Today’s journalist, she added, must have skills in each industry. And a building that centralizes all those genres gives Howard’s students a level playing field, Dates added.
“The building that we have right now is designed for a hospital (and) it has six separate wings,” Dates explained. “All the departments are separated from each other. In an area where there is convergence of technology, for us to be separated as if radio/TV/film is different from journalism is not helpful.”
The D.C.-based university wants to construct a $50 million state-of-the-art five-story building. An additional $25 million will be used to outfit the school with smart classrooms, digital labs, and production facilities.
Technology is key in equipping young journalists for tomorrow’s job, said Barbara Bealor Hines, Ph.D., professor and director of the department’s Graduate Studies.
“You can have all the talent in the world, but if you don’t have the technology to make sure that students are competitive, you are not doing them a service with their education,” she said.
The National Newspaper Publishers Association Found-ation’s Chair, Dorothy R. Leavell was represented at the reception and is an integral part of the fundraising efforts. The NNPA Foundation has agreed to raise funds to support an NNPA Wing in the new John H. Johnson School of Communi-cations. This wing will represent the “Black Press of America” by providing an enlarged and expanded Converged Lab, now presently operating at the Communications School. The new wing, costing approximately $3 million, will include NNPA executive offices, a reception area, and other multiple use rooms.
The department will reach out to university board members, corporate sponsors and alumni to raise funds. The school wants to raise $10 million in initial monies by 2010. They have raised nearly $4 million in pledges and actual money so far.
But Attorney Cornell L. Moore, who sits on the Board of Visitors of the Johnson School of Communi-cations, admits the depressed economy may hinder fundraising efforts.
“The times we live in right now is extremely hard to raise money because everybody is short; everybody is looking for something and nobody has any money,” Moore said.
But the school is banking on Johnson’s legacy to draw big funders.
“I’m not a journalist,” Moore said. “I’m just a poor country lawyer. But I recognize the need for good journalism to tell both sides of the story.”
The School of Communications already has support from Johnson Publications, former basketball star Magic Johnson, Time Warner and the McCormick Tribune Foundation.
Eli Lilly and Co., which co-sponsored the reception, supports the endeavor. The pharmaceutical company also recognized the school’s success.
Deirdre Connelly, President of Lilly USA, noted that PR Week ranked Howard among the top schools to recruit job candidates for the public relation industry. Also, the National Association of Black Journalists recognized the university as the number one journalism school.
“I have no doubts that the talent, hard work and perseverance will thrive at the John H. Johnson School of Communications, where teachers and mentors encourage success at the highest level,” Connelly said.
Aisha Chaney, a 2004 graduate, owes her success to the school. Chaney is an associate producer of ESPN’s Sports Center.
She credits one particular class for giving her the writing tools that landed her an internship with ESPN before being hired full-time.
“I would never have gotten to where I am now,” she said. “I owe a lot to Howard.”