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October 7, 2013

MAX JONES: Ernie Pyle’s IU legacy should be preserved

As an alum of Indiana University-Bloomington, where I received a bachelor’s degree in journalism many moons ago, I’ve been watching with keen interest the ongoing discussion about merging the School of Journalism with other areas of communications, such as PR and filmmaking, inside the College of Arts & Sciences.

Managing the resources of a college campus is a big job. Finding ways to best serve students’ needs is an ongoing challenge. Although I’ve tried to keep an open mind about what the IU administration is proposing, I’m inclined to view this move as nothing more than change for the sake of change.

Part of the reason I’m skeptical is a comment made by IU President Michael McRobbie when defending his plan to eliminate the journalism school and roll it into a larger media school. He told the Bloomington Herald Times last year, “There’s no point in saving a school that trains people to manage fleets of horses if the motorcar has taken over horse-drawn transportation.”

President McRobbie is a smart guy who’s done good things in his tenure at IU. But that comment was not among his finest moments. While cute on the surface, it reveals a troubling misunderstanding about what journalists do and how they do it.

Yes, due to technological advancements, the tools and delivery methods of journalism have changed in the past 25 years. Drastically. But the fundamentals remain essentially the same — writing, editing, doing research, reporting, interviewing, making ethical decisions and understanding media law. Careers in journalism are not going away. A vibrant marketplace remains for trained and skilled journalists.

The merger debate, however, is probably moot. The IU trustees meet later this month to take action on the proposal and are expected to approve it. I hope the merger goes well and IU continues to provide top-notch journalism education to its students.

One controversial element of the merger that will linger, however, is how IU will preserve the legacy of its most famous and important journalism alum, Ernie Pyle. The renowned World War II correspondent studied journalism and served the college newspaper — The Indiana Daily Student — as its editor before launching his career in the early 1920s.

Pyle, a native of Dana in Vermillion County, is widely recognized as among the best war correspondents to ever ply the craft. He told the story of the American G.I. during World War II through frequent dispatches published in hundreds of daily newspapers across the country. Pyle won the prestigious Pulitzer Prize in 1944 for his war coverage, which included the Normandy invasion on D-Day. He was killed by a Japanese machine gunner’s bullet on a remote South Pacific island in the waning days of World War II while covering the aftermath of the battle for Okinawa.

Pyle has long been honored at IU by having his name adorn the journalism building. (The current School of journalism also carries his name.) I spent many days and nights in Ernie Pyle Hall as a student and member of the student newspaper staff. It’s hard for me to imagine the IU campus without a building carrying Ernie’s name. Yet that is now a distinct possibility as the “new” journalism department will most likely be moved to another building.

To IU’s credit, efforts are being made to ensure Pyle’s legacy isn’t lost in the department merger. The Ernie Pyle Legacy Committee of faculty, alumni and professionals will meet Thursday to identify ways to continue honoring Pyle on campus if the journalism school is moved and Ernie Pyle Hall is either razed or renamed.

As a disclaimer, I should note that I am a board member for the Friends of Ernie Pyle, the nonprofit group that owns and operates the Ernie Pyle World War II Museum in Dana. I believe strongly that Pyle’s legacy is of great importance and worthy of preservation and advancement.

I am impressed with the makeup of the legacy committee and hope it succeeds in ensuring that Ernie gets the place in IU history that he richly deserves.

Max Jones can be reached at 812-231-4336, or by email at max.jones@tribstar.com. Follow him on Twitter, @TribStarMax.

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