Journalist, Ethicist, Teacher
His second year on the job in 2008, Culpepper “Cully” Clark, dean of the prestigious Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia, bought a television station.
Technically, the University of Georgia Research Foundation, a UGA-affiliated nonprofit corporation that supports research at the institution, laid out the $1.46 million to purchase and digitally convert WNEG, located in Toccoa; but the main studios will eventually be located in Athens with bureaus around northeast Georgia.
The station will be the centerpiece of the Center for Advanced Media, part of a proposal Clark made to the UGA Research Foundation. With a professional staff in charge of operations, the station will serve as a hands-on teaching facility for Grady College students. Conserva-tive initial estimates of advertising revenues from the station top $4 million annually.
“We are creating for media what medicine has always had in their teaching hospitals,” Clark says. “We have a place for our students to create and present content which will also become a sustainable asset for the college.”
A Cairo, Ga., native, Clark, 65, earned history degrees from Emory University; bachelor’s in 1965, master’s in 1968. He began his teaching career at Andrew College, a small liberal arts college in southwest Georgia, then moved on to the University of North Carolina. At UNC he taught, from 1969 through 1971, and earned his doctorate in history in 1974.
Clark embarked on a 35-year association with the University of Alabama in 1971, although he had a brief stint as chair of the Department of Commu-nications at Georgia State University in the ’80s.
During his tenure at Alabama he taught speech and forensics (debate), and chaired the academic speech and communications departments. Clark served as assistant to the university president and as dean of the College of Communication & Information Sciences. He edited numerous works and authored three books including The Schoolhouse Door: Segregation’s Last Stand at the University of Alabama, published in 1993 and named to The New York Times Book Review’s Notable Books selection that same year.
In 2006, UGA tapped Clark to head the Grady College. An advocate of collegial, collaborative relationships between faculty and students, Clark keeps a foot in the classroom by teaching a seminar each semester and serving on the dissertation committee. “I like to involve myself in the workings of the college,” he says.
To that end, Clark took part in a two-hour question and answer session during the 2007 fall semester called “Open Mic with Dean Clark.” The event gave students an opportunity to question Clark or voice their opinions about a range of topics.
Despite technological advances causing significant changes in the way news and information is delivered, there remains a need for journalistic ethics and standards. In fact those standards become even more important with the speed that information disseminates. “How we vet information in a print environment is changing,” Clark says. “Individuals consume news differently; citizen journalists can create news [product]. How do we apply standards to what we call news? Those things are under pressure. What is the ‘gold standard’?”
Clark believes continued education in ethical business practices is essential. “Ethics is built into everything we do; how we teach, what we teach,” he says. “It is demanded and expected.”
Asked about his philosophy of leadership, Clark says, “I like to use that often quoted phrase, ‘There go my people. I must catch them for I am their leader!’”
But he adds, “There is a lot of energy present in this college, from everyone, and a lot of ideas about where we could go to capture the future.”
He returns to the television station as an example. “There’s an HR guy who works here at the college who said he wants to create a kids’ show where children come in and talk about their collections,” Clark says. “When you’re in the business of creating arts, entertainment, and sharing information, it’s energizing.”