Fisher Critical to IRE Success

By Ullmann, John | Investigative Reporters and Editors, Inc. The IRE Journal, May/June 1999 | Go to article overview
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Fisher Critical to IRE Success

Ullmann, John, Investigative Reporters and Editors, Inc. The IRE Journal

Former journalism dean, early IRE supporter, dead at 80

Here's how IRE began the negotiations that ended with its move to the Missouri School of Journalism.

A youngish doctoral student was walking the basement tunnel between the two original journalism buildings and reading a short Editor & Publisher article about IRE. It quoted Bob Greene, then assistant managing editor at Newsday and IRE's president, who said that the four-year-old maverick journalism organization (with only a few hundred members, little money, and six lawsuits from the Arizona Project) needed a permanent home, probably at a journalism school.

He said that IRE had several offers and that it would soon make up its mind.

The doctoral student looked up and saw the journalism school dean walking through the same corridor. The student introduced himself (remembering names was never among the dean's prominent skills), shared the short article, then asked why Missouri wouldn't be interested in IRE.

It would be, said the dean, and instructed the doctoral student to call, find out if the search was still on and if they'd consider Missouri.

I was the doctoral student. The dean was Roy Fisher. It was spring 1979 and IRE was about to enter its fifth year.

Greene came to Missouri, spent time with the students, faculty and Roy. Greene's subsequent long memo to IRE board members contained high praise for Missouri, but concluded that Missouri was out-of-the-way, and that it would be better for the organization to pick the East Coast journalism school already ahead in the running.

Roy Fisher responded with a rebuttal letter.

At the summer national convention in Denver where the decision would be made, Roy dispatched journalism professor Dale Spencer to present the case on behalf of the school. Missouri prevailed.

I was asked to be the first executive director. We set up shop in the school's tiny third-floor museum, among the relics. When visitors came, we sat immobile. If they stayed, we told them we were part of an animated news diorama, the nation's first, and that it was all right to feed us. We were never fed and after a few such encounters, museum contributors organized a protest. We were henceforth relocated to the basement, where we weren't fed either, where it stank, and where the room collected pools of water on rainy days and nights.

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