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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
Interviewee: Dr. William Chamberlin
Interviewer: Alan Fried
February 3, 1991
F: [This is Alan Fried.] I am talking with William Chamberlin at his office in the
Brechner Center for Freedom of Information in the University of Florida College of
Journalism and Communications. Today is February 3, 1991. This is part one of a
two-part interview with Dr. Chamberlin. [The interview is for the University of Florida
Oral History Archives.] Sir, what is your name?
C: [William F.] "Bill" Chamberlin.
F: You are the director of the Brechner Center for Freedom and Information. Is that
right, Dr. Chamberlin?
F: For the record, who was Joseph Brechner?
C: Joe was the owner of a broadcast station in Orlando who was known nationally for
his pioneering in the efforts of editorializing on the broadcast media. He was willing
and able to use his station very effectively. He was outspoken in his editorializing.
Apparently he was one of the early pioneers in using editorializing, and certainly to
the degree that he did. He also owned a couple of other broadcast properties and
wrote a couple of articles [that were published] in academic journals, actually.
F: Where was his station located?
C: In Orlando.
F: That was a radio station?
C: No, it was a television station that he owned in part, with some other partners.
F: [Was the station] an independent or an affiliate?
C: I do not know any more details.
F: How did he come to select the University of Florida as the site of the center?
C: Well, you will want to get that whole story from Dean Ralph Lowenstein [dean,
College of Journalism and Communications]. Basically, as I understand it, Jo Anne
Smith [professor of journalism and communications], the previous director of what
was then called the Florida Freedom of Information Clearinghouse, met Joe at a
First Amendment Congress meeting. They started talking, and he became
interested in the center at that point. [As I understand it,] Ralph already knew Joe. I
think they have some Missouri ties in their background. But Joe was particularly
interested in issues of freedom of information. He had played a role in getting
cameras in the courtroom started in the state of Florida.
[Because of] the combination of the Missouri tie [and the fact that] both he and
Ralph were Jewish, they felt very comfortable talking to each other, and their
commitment to freedom of information led to his endowment. Off the top, I cannot
quite remember [how much that endowment was]. I think it was $1 million or $1.2
million or $1.4 million. Ralph would know; I can look it up. That was for the
matching money for the state for an eminent scholar plus money for building the
center in this new wing of Weimer Hall, plus a substantial amount of money for the
operating expenses and a newsletter. As I think about it, I think it probably came to
about $1.2 million.
F: An impressive sum, and certainly the work that the center does needs that kind of
commitment. Can you tell us a little bit about the work that the center does, what
the main mission is?
C: Well, let me start with a little history, because the evolution of the center is an
important part of my coming. It was started in 1977 by Dean Lowenstein after
talking to Paul Hogan, who was then an official of the Florida Society of Newspaper
Editors. They decided that they needed a newsletter that went to newspaper editors
and reporters to keep them in touch with what was going on in issues of media law,
particularly access to information, and [would serve as] a clearinghouse operation
providing information. Now, at that time no other source existed for that kind of
The faculty member at that point in the Department of Journalism in the field of
media law was Jo Anne Smith. Jo Anne undertook the task at the direction of Dean
Lowenstein to create a newsletter in a center. It [the center] was called the Florida
Clearinghouse for Freedom of Information. Ralph then was principally looking for
funds to support that newsletter, and they met Joe. Joe provided the endowment for
the eminent scholar.
The original idea was to have an eminent scholar and then someone working with
that person to be essentially the nuts and bolts director of the center under the
eminent scholar, to be an assistant director. The assumption was that Professor
Smith would be involved. But she had health problems just about the time that I was
hired, so when I got here she was not here. We still have an office for an assistant
director. So at this point I am the Joseph L. Brechner Eminent Scholar of Freedom
of Information andthe director of the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information. I
am expected to teach graduate-level classes in media law, publish, and direct the
The idea that both Ralph and I had during the interviews was that the center would
evolve to be more than what it was. That is somewhat limited because of the fact
that I am wearing so many hats. By the time I do the research expected and do the
teaching expected and in fact develop programming here, which is part of the
package, [it is difficult to find time to develop the service and outreach aspects of the
center]. We have built a graduate media law program with a Ph.D. emphasis in
media law and a joint juris doctor/master of [arts in] mass communications program
as part of my being here.
We know we have the elements [for the center]. We publish the newsletter ten
times a year, which has been redesigned since I got here and goes to media
operations in the state as well as media lawyers. We are available for answering
calls about items in media law and freedom of information. We probably average
three calls a week at this point, and we tend to average about half an hour a call,
maybe forty minutes, by the time any research necessary [is done and] the call is
understood and so forth. Those are rough numbers. We can look back at any point
and find out what the real numbers are.
In addition, we administer the Brechner Freedom of Information award, which is an
award that is given to the best article on freedom of information/First Amendment
that we can find in the nation. Our deadline for 1990 entries is February 15, 1991.
We awarded I think it was the fifth award just this last year. We have given them to
the Washington Post, a newspaper in Dallas, to two articles in the Columbia
journalism Review, and this last one was in the Bureau of National Affairs [a private
firm]. That is a $3,000 annual award that is administered in this office.
Because of the Ph.D. degree, my research interests, and what I think of a center
operating out of an institution, my focus, to the degree that I could, was to lead the
center toward a research center in areas of freedom of information. We have not
yet published any major works, but we have [published a few small studies and
have] several projects going. That has been limited, again, a lot by my time. I have
several drafts waiting for me to pay attention to. We do have virtually ready for
publication a sixteen-page lay guide that is cosponsored by the Brechner Center, the
Center for Governmental Responsibility, the First Amendment Foundation, which is
an outgrowth of the Florida Newspaper Publishers Association, and the St.
Petersburg Times. That is just about ready to go to press.
I want to sponsor conferences and seminars when that seems to be appropriate.
Because I have a full plate at the moment, I am not in the business of doing
something regularly or annually. But we have sponsored with the law school a
seminar on libel. I sponsored last summer a trip to Tallahassee so that several
newspaper representatives could discuss problems of access to computerized
information with a legislative aide. Of course, I and others working with me speak
fairly frequently to public groups [and] to professional groups about various issues in
freedom of information as requested. I am probably forgetting something, but that is
what I can think of at the moment.
F: You mentioned some of the people that you work with. You have a staff of five
C: I have one full-time assistant that is paid for out of the Brechner endowment, and we
have one graduate student assistant that is in charge of the newspaper, the
Brechner Report. Then we have one graduate assistant assigned as a research
assistant to me whom we normally pay out of the Brechner endowment. Then we
usually have one undergraduate assistant for circulating the Brechner Report and
doing the odds and ends that are needed in the office. Now, occasionally I have
some funds to provide for another student assistant or occasionally a special project
for a graduate assistant. But in general, the two full-time employees--me and the
assistant--and the two Ph.D. graduate students and the one undergraduate student
tend to be staff.
F: You also have a number of graduate students whom you are overseeing as far as
their research work [is concerned].
C: Correct. At this point I have three Ph.D. advises and--I am not quite sure,
depending on how you count--I think about four or five master's advises. In
general, master's students will not emphasize mass media law because they are
looking for something that will get them a job, and a master's degree in mass media
law will not. I also oversee, along with Dr. Kurt E. Kent, the assistant dean of
graduate studies [College of Journalism], the journalism half of the joint degree
program that I mentioned earlier. Dr. Kent, Dr. [John W.] Wright [professor of
journalism and communications], and I form the admissions committee, and I am
generally considered the key advisor/supervisor/counselor for that program.
F: I want to turn our focus a little bit from the center and on to you. You are originally
from Washington state, are you?
C: Well, that depends how original you want to get.
F: Where were you born?
C: I was born in Hobbs, New Mexico, which is a little town near an air force base ten
miles from the Mexican border. The reason is that my dad was in the service at that
time. I was born in 1944, and within about two months from the time I was born they
sent all the dependents home. So for most of my early life I was in the state of
Washington. I grew up in a little town called Moses Lake. Then I went to the
University of Washington, where I got my B.A. in 1967. Under a Russell Sage
Social Science [Writing] Fellowship I received a master's degree in political science
from the University of Wisconsin in 1968.
F: Let us focus a little bit on the University of Washington. What did you think of that
as a school? Did you enjoy that? Tell us a little bit about it.
C: Well, of course I went to the University of Washington both for my B.A. and for my
Ph.D., so there is a tendency for me to rememberthe Ph.D. years a little betterthan
the B.A. years. First of all, anybody living for seven years in the city of Seattle finds
that to be a delightful experience. The University of Washington is an excellent
institution. The reason I went back for my Ph.D. is because at that time it had one of
the top three people in the country specializing in media law. That was Don
I wrote to all three schools [the University of Washington, the University of
Wisconsin, and the University of Minnesota] at a time that I now know is a time that
you should not write for applying to [graduate school]. Well, I knew it at the time,
too. I wrote my initial letter. I decided that I wanted to go into a Ph.D. program in
about March or April. I knew that was late in the season, but I wrote a letter anyway.
[The University of] Washington was the only school that jumped right on it. I think
that had I been at a different time of the year, I would have heard from others, but it
was late for those. I was ready to go, so the fact that Washington responded quickly
[led me there]. I knew them, and they knew me. I had worked with them closely not
only as a B.A., but I had worked as a college administrator and a part-time, and
eventually full-time, teacher at Central Washington State College, now Central
Washington State University. I had been a director of the journalism program there
for two years, so I knew the Washington folks well. Knowing that one of the best
people in the country in media law was there and that I knew them well, it was a
F: As an undergrad, had you anticipated getting into media law? Was that your original
C: No, not media law. I anticipated going into journalism all the way. I had been
headed into some area of journalism since somewhere in the eighth grade. I
thought it was journalism practice, as opposed to teaching, up until after my master's
degree. When I got my master's degree I still planned to be a journalist. But it was
events shortly after that that steered me into teaching.
The first inkling [I had] that I enjoyed media law happened one of my last quarters--
they are on the quarter system there--in my senior year. I had delayed media law
for as long as I could because there was an old goat teaching it that nobody liked
very well. I was a relatively sophisticated course picker at that point and was doing
everything I could to avoid him. As it happened, either the last quarter or the next-
to-the-last quarter he took a quarter off. I and I suppose almost everyone else in the
school--that is obviously an exaggeration--jumped to take [the course] from whoever
it was. As it turned out, it was a young media lawyer from downtown Seattle, and he
and I just hit it off from the very beginning. The magic that develops between some
teachers and some students [was there]. It is hard to know, as always, to what
degree it was the magic between the student and the teacher or the class and the
student or whatever. But he and I got so that we really enjoyed each other.
My dad died that quarter--in fact, he died the week before exams--so I had a fairly
traumatic experience. That may have also sealed the fact that I had the support of
that teacher in that process. At any rate, he has become one of the foremost media
lawyers in the country.
F: And he is...?
C: His name is Cameron DeVore. He works out of the law firm Davis, Todd & Wright in
Seattle. He is considered now one of the experts if not the expert on commercial
speech in the country.
Just to finish that little story, I did not know how far that would go. I just enjoyed the
class. But then when I started teaching at Central Washington State College, they
did not have a [media] law class. I knew that that was one of the first things we
ought to have. I did not at all mind the idea of my teaching it. It sounded kind of
exciting, because I remembered back [to when I had the class]. So that experience
of beginning to teach the media law class based upon the initial interest was what
triggered me into media law. I left Central Washington State College in part
because I was frustrated in not having a law school [nearby for class preparation].
The time between Central Washington State College and when I started my Ph.D.
program I was in Washington, DC. When I decided to go back for the Ph.D. I knew
it was going to be in media law.
F: In the meantime, you were working for a couple of local newspapers as you were in
C: Right. The reason that I knew where I was going in the sense of journalism, as early
as the eighth grade, is that I was one of those ninety-eight-pound weaklings that
wanted to participate in sports. Through a series of maneuvers that I am not even
sure about today, I somehow became a manager of a high school wrestling team in
the eighth grade. Wresting was very new to the state of Washington, but there was
an enormously strong coach there in that program. I was manager and statistician.
Wrestling was beginning to be big. It was really just starting out, but it was attracting
some attention, enough that the local newspaper thought they ought to cover it.
They did not have anyone that knew anything about wrestling, so I became their
correspondent. Through the years, that wrestling team became state champion,
and I was calling to the media all over the state.
F: What high school was that?
C: Moses Lake High School. In fact, I became the statistician for the state wrestling
tournament as a part of that. Therefore, I received a lot of media [experience] and
media exposure. Somewhere between the eighth grade and the tenth or eleventh I
decided that journalism [was going to be an important part of my life]--even in
seventh or eighth grade, when I had a journalism course. I remember that. But our
high school did not have any. I started a newspaper at the high school, and I was
the editor of the yearbook, because that was the closest thing to journalism. I was
also editor of the newspaper then for a while.
Then my local newspaper, which was just a little paper--I forget the circulation; I
think it was something like five or six thousand in a town often thousand--[hired me
for summer work].
F: Was it a weekly?
C: No, daily: five days a week, I think. The publisher of that paper had never hired a
student, I suppose in part because there was no formal journalism program. But the
semester of my senior year, after having essentially free-lanced for them for five or
six years, he asked me if I would work there for the summer. So for the next four
years, through college, I worked there in the summer and virtually did everything on
the paper you could do except be the editor. I was the county reporter, the
education reporter, the sports editor, ...
F: What a great job!
C: Oh, yes, it was superb! It was all the experience I needed to prepare me in a lot of
different ways. Then I did information-office work at the University of Washington to
help finance my B.A. program. I worked at least one semester as the night editor for
UPI [United Press International] in the little bureau in Seattle.
F: Was it a busy place?
C: No, it was not. That is why they were willing to let a [college student work there as a
night editor]. It was a very interesting job, because it was highly responsible in the
sense that I was the only person in that office for a about a six- or seven-hour
period. Therefore, if something were to happen in the Pacific [Northwest] for UPI, I
was the man that was supposed to decide what to do with it, how to get it on the
wire, and so forth. Most of the time it was pretty dead, because it was [during the]
evening hours. Basically, most of my job amounted to making sure that the right
news got on the right wires and rewriting print news for radio wire and getting in
sports scores. Most of it was pretty routine. But the responsibility was good, and, of
course, it was in journalism. When I was first hired at Central Washington State
College, it was a job in the information office for two years, although it included
My only other professional experience was a job in Washington, DC. My wife and I
had left Ellensburg, Washington, at Central Washington State College, with the idea
of her getting a library degree and that someone with a journalist/political science
background could find something to do in Washington [DC]. I free-lanced and
visited the sights for a little while, for my first couple of months there, but then I
decided that I wanted a job. The first thing I could find was with the Congressional
Quarterly. They were an excellent group to be with for what I wanted, so I took the
only job there, even though I was told it was beneath my status. I just wanted to get
in. That is my professional experience.
F: You had worked at UPI during the state legislative session?
F: Did that give you some insights into the CQ?
C: Well, as you can tell, I was steered in almost everything I did toward public affairs
reporting. I had really left sports as a major interest, probably about my freshman
year in college. It just did not hold enough for me. So from then on I was looking at
politics and political science. Of course, that was [the emphasis of] my master's
degree, and most of my time in Moses Lake I was doing political reporting. So the
UPI job was an extension of that.
F: You mentioned that you earned your master's degree on a fellowship. Could you tell
us a little bit about that?
C: Sure. My dad wanted me to get a master's degree. He was a public school
administrator, but I was not at all sure that that was what I wanted. I kind of wanted
to get a newspaper job.
But an opportunity came up. The Russell Sage Foundation was at that time
sponsoring academic fellowships to the University of Wisconsin for journalists who
would come back from being journalists and spend a year in academic environment.
[There were] five of those. And then [there were] two for journalism majors who
were looking to report in the social sciences. Well, that was exactly what I had
planned to do. At that point I was thinking of reporting in politics and political
science. I had enough experience that I could risk not going directly into a job, that
is, I already had experience equivalent to two or three years. So I knew that I could
go to another year of school and still come out and look for a professional job. I was
really kind of getting excited about education. My senior year of college I was
increasingly getting cranked up about learning and where I was going. The
combination of my dad's encouragement to get a master's degree and the idea of
getting a fellowship to the University of Wisconsin and getting an increased
background in political science, all that kind of tended to work together. I applied for
the program and got the fellowship.
It was essentially $3,300 for ten months with an idea that the people who were
journalists [could] get backgrounds in other fields. Obviously, what I wanted to do
was political science. I was able to manufacture a master's degree out of that. I say
that because the program was not designed to be a degree program, but I had been
in education enough and was counseled enough by others--they said, "Bill, if you
are going to go into that environment, do everything you can to get a master's"--that
I managed to do that. As it turned out, that was one of a couple of key turning points
in my career. I never would have gotten the next job that I took if it were not for the
master's. As it turned out, that next job propelled me into education and teaching.
F: So you were going to school at the University of Wisconsin. [At various times, then,]
you lived on the west coast, the Midwest, the east coast, and I think in a few
moments we are going to be asking you about some of your Florida experiences.
How do you like moving around a lot?
C: Well, I do. Obviously, the cost of that is family life. Right now my parents are
getting older, and it is difficult to work with them and to be near them when you are
3,500 miles away. But I have a natural inclination to experiment and roam. I think
one of the things I am most pleased about is the different living environments that
we have lived in. I think that is true of Jeanne, too. We very much have enjoyed
living in all these different places and are very fond of all of them, as a matter of fact.
One of the reasons that we came to Florida was that we were getting ready to
explore a new environment. I am not sure that I am going to say that I am ready to
do that in ten years after this job, but the idea of getting to another part of the
country was one of the things in the background when I came to Florida. It certainly
was not a primary [consideration], but we were kind of ready to do that.
F: After earning your master's, you did not return to journalism. We spoke a little bit
about how you wanted to go into education. Through this period I gather also that
you were interested in how the law affected journalism. How did you decide to get
into teaching? Is this the point that you decided, or did it come a little bit later?
C: Well, it came at Central Washington State College, and it was pure accident. This is
a fun story that I suppose only historians and my family will appreciate. My mother
was a public school teacher--second grade--for twenty-five years, and my father was
a public school administrator. Our life at home had convinced me that I did not want
to teach. Of course, what I knew was public school teaching, and I knew the
relatively demanding life at relatively low pay and lots of traumas and very few
rewards. So I had decided against teaching.
But when I left the University of Wisconsin at Madison with the M.A., I was 1 A in the
draft, and no newspaper would hire me. This was 1968-1969. The Vietnam War
was reaching its peak, and I was very much draft bait. So at that point my career
was at a pause. We had decided that we would get my wife back into school. She
had not finished her undergraduate education, so we went back home. Ellensburg,
where Central Washington State College was located, was seventy miles away from
our home. So Jeanne could go back to school, and I found a job in our hometown
shoving cans on a conveyor belt in a potato processing plant.
It is a complicated story that I will make simple. You can ask more questions about
it if you want. Essentially what happened is somebody that knew Jeanne knew
where I was and what I was doing and knew my [journalism] skills] background.
Actually, it was the wife of the number-two man at Central Washington State
College. They had two openings in a three-person information office, which was in
charge of teaching the journalism courses, [the college news bureau,] and putting
out the catalog. They did not have the time schedule out--it was less than three
weeks, I think, before the term started--because of the problem of the office,
because they had only one person in a three-person office. They did the sports
information work, and they advised the [student] newspaper.
I had been the editor of the student newspaper at the University of Washington, I
had worked my way through doing information office work, I had the sports
background, and I figured if there were anything I could teach it was probably basic
journalism. So the idea that they were willing to offer me a job where Jeanne was
already going to school really sounded like a pretty neat deal. We looked at it as a
purely temporary thing, a way of living together in our second year of marriage. We
were at that point, of course, broke, so having a job was really nice. The nice thing
was they went after a deferment from the draft for me; they were able to get me an
Now, at that time in that job, all I saw was an information office that I could do pretty
well. But one of the things in the job was teaching. What I found was when I got
into the classroom, that is where I belonged. The difference, of course, was that my
parents had been in public schools, and I was in higher education. My dad had
frequently taught summers at colleges and universities. He had all but his
dissertation for his Ph.D. So again, the family background was there, and all I had
to get in was the right environment. It did not take long at all in that classroom
before I knew that teaching was what I wanted--it was just at the college level. I
immediately started gelling the students. One of my strengths has always been
student relationships, and I could feel that when I first got started. That was really
where the decision to teach came.
At that point, all the people in that office were doing part-time teaching, and
essentially I told the administration that that was insane. What they needed was
one full-time teacher, at least. When they decided that was true, I applied for that
job. So I held the first full-time teaching job [in journalism] at Central Washington
State College for two years. That was the point at which Jeanne and I became
[disgruntled with life at Central Washington State College]. She was frustrated
because she was doing professional library work without a professional degree and
not getting paid for it, and I was frustrated because I was teaching up to five
preparations a quarter, ten different preparations a year. I mean, I have taught
everything from photojournalism to editorial writing to feature writing to law to mass
media in society, etc. I knew that that was not yet what teaching could be. That is
what forced us [to move on].
We went [to Washington, DC] to get her master's degree in library science, and I
was essentially going to play a year and figure out what I wanted to do with my life.
I really thought that what I wanted to do, even then, was maybe go back to
journalism. But the year in Washington [DC] convinced me it was really teaching,
but with a Ph.D.
F: So it meant another move for you when you decided to go on to get your doctorate.
C: Oh, yes. I had moved from Moses Lake to Seattle for my B.A. to Madison for my
M.A. to Moses Lake very shortly and then to Ellensburg, then that stint to
Washington, DC, for the one year, then back to Seattle for the Ph.D.
F: OK. I have my times a little bit clearer.
C: We actually moved, when you count residences, eleven times in our first eleven
years of marriage. You can count probably five or six cities.
F: From Washington [DC] you came back and got your doctorate at the University of
Washington. We have talked a little bit about that. You have mentioned that were
working with Dr. Pember. What was his first name?
C: Don. He prefers Don like I prefer Bill.
F: OK. You did your dissertation on the FCC, the Federal Communications
C: Right. I knew from the beginning that I wanted to teach mass media law. My
weaknesses, however, were in the broadcast media. I had a good print background,
and I understood libel and privacy. So from the very beginning at Washington I
targeted most of my efforts toward electronic media regulation so that I could
understand that and teach that as well. Essentially I shopped for a dissertation, and
they gave me that kind of background.
F: During the late 1970s you served on a number of professional committees. I guess
this would have been even while you were earning your Ph.D. Is that right?
C: Well, not quite. It looks a little like that because I finished my Ph.D. [during] the first
year [teaching] at the University of North Carolina [Chapel Hill]. One of the things
that apparently I have been able to do fairly well is organize. Maybe part of it is
doing what you say you are going to do. Once I got started working in the
Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication [AEJMC], it never
seemed to stop. [Chamberlin began work with the organization in 1968 and served
on the executive committee from 1983 to 1986. Ed.] I started in the second orthird
year at North Carolina as an officer in the law division, and I went from being an
officer in the law division to starting a new committee on technology and policy.
Maybe I did the [Committee on] Professional Freedom and Responsibility first; I
forget. [Chamberlin served as assistant chair of that committee from 1981 to 1982
and as chair from 1983 to 1986. Ed.] Anyway, in continuity--of course, it is all in the
vita--I went from the Law Division [of the AEJMC] to the Professional Freedom and
Responsibility to Technology and Policy. [Chamberlin served as head of the Law
Division 1980-1981 and was assistant chairman of the Committee on Professional
Freedom and Responsibility 1981-1982. Ed.] The Professional Freedom and
Responsibility standing committee put me on the executive committee, so I was
basically an officer in the organization for something like ten or eleven years in a
row. I may have had a hiatus there of a year or two, but then I was asked to be
director of the bicentennial effort for the organization. So I have, for the most part,
been an officer at the national level in that organization almost every year since I
started at North Carolina.
F: And you started in North Carolina in what year, after getting your Ph.D.?
C: Again, the vita can back me up, but I think I started at North Carolina in 1976, and I
received the Ph.D. in 1977.
F: What was your position at North Carolina? This was the University of North
C: The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I was hired as an assistant
professor of journalism, right out of my Ph.D. program.
F: How did you like Chapel Hill?
C: Well, when people ask me how we like Gainesville, the first thing I tell them they
have to realize is that for most of my adult life I have lived in Seattle, Washington;
Madison, Wisconsin; Chapel Hill, North Carolina; and Washington, DC. As far as I
am concerned, those are four of the most desirable places to live in the world, let
alone the country. My inclinations are a little closer to Madison and Chapel Hill than
they are to the bigger cities. If you can draw up an ideal place to live, I think an
awful lot of people would choose Chapel Hill, North Carolina. It is basically a
bedroom community to the University. There is virtually no crime there whatsoever.
It is a glorious little university community on top of a hill, and most of the
undesirable parts of the city are out a ways. So if you have guilt trips about having
the best with you and the worst somewhere else, it is a bad place to be.
F: Were some of those assets some of the things that prompted you to look for a job
there? What drew you there?
C: The job. We were not very anxious [about moving to North Carolina]. This is
obviously naivety on my part, but I had not known that once I got a Ph.D. at the
University of Washington I would not be able to get a job at the University of
Washington. Otherwise, I am not sure that I would have gotten a Ph.D. at the
University of Washington, because I wanted to live in the Pacific Northwest.
Frankly, I largely still do, although the weather in Florida is convincing me otherwise
When I was on the job market, because I was working in one of the best media law
[Ph.D.] programs, which is what I had intended, I was being looked by at by among
the best law jobs in the country. I interviewed at Baylor, which had a law job, at
Stanford, at North Carolina, and at Maryland. Clearly, Stanford and North Carolina
were the best jobs. I was looking where I knew I could teach media law. Basically I
had chosen North Carolina over Stanford, but I found out on the same day that I did
not get Stanford by a one-vote margin and did get North Carolina, so that made life
easy for me.
I knew that, given who I was, I would refuse to sacrifice teaching. I am kind of a
slow, careful scholar. [I knew] I would probably not do aswell in a highly demanding
publication environment as Stanford. North Carolina had a small course load, a
heavy emphasis on teaching, and a friendly environment. I am talking now about
the School of Journalism.
That was just about the period where the North Carolina reputation began to take
off. I do not want to say that [it was not a good school before that]. It was known as
a good school through the 1960s and 1970s, but in 1975 North Carolina began to
have a series of openings [it filled with some of the best people] in the country.
What I am talking about is the development of that program, and that is important to
what you were interested in for reasons that I will explain in a moment. In 1975 they
hired the very best young [international] communications scholar that was available
[Robert L. Stevenson]. In 1976 they hired me and a woman [Carol Reuss] who
became a leader in public relations. Then I forget exactly the years, but we hired
one of the outstanding young women in behavioral science [Jane Brown]. We hired
one of the first blacks on any faculty in the country with substantial professional
media experience [Harry Amana]. We hired Phil Meyer, who had had twenty-five
years of newspaper executive work, including [winning] the Pulitzer Prize. He had
also written a book on precision journalism. All of those hires were made in about a
five-year period, and there were more. What was a solid program became within a
five-year period easily one of the best in the country.
That was important, because if you were at North Carolina at that time, the spotlight
was on you, that is, one of the reasons that I received attention for AEJMC was that
if you were the law person at North Carolina you must worth something. Also,
again, out of the experience in the law division I published my first book, the edited
book [The First Amendment Reconsidered: New Perspectives on the Meaning of
Speech and Press (1982), coedited with Charlene Brown]. The fact that I had
published a book and had been at North Carolina, and that North Carolina was a
place where people did research, I think had a very instrumental impact on the
acceptance of other kinds of publications that I did, particularly the development of
the book The Law of Public Communication , which I will talk about in a
So I think the fact that I was at a university that had a moderate course load, that
had a very exciting and stimulating faculty, that was quickly becoming the center of
AEJMC focus as one of the best schools in the program [was very exciting. The
School of Journalism at UNC at Chapel Hill was] a very solid school on basic skills
courses, which is one of the reasons that it was getting that attention, and
essentially it had as many resources as I needed for travel.
In addition--probably a very important ingredient--about the second or third year I
was there I started working with the master's program. I became the director of the
master's program and was director of the master's program during the years that the
North Carolina graduate program took off. Again, it was an integration of several
positive things. We had a new dean in the late 1970s-early 1980s, Richard Cole,
who believed very much in the graduate program, and he started getting more
money into the graduate program. He used the money that was put into the
program to pull together a new team of graduate directors. There were three of us.
The international specialist that I mentioned, Bob Stevenson, [became director of
graduate studies]; the behavior specialist that I mentioned, Jane Brown, [became
director of the Ph.D. program]; and I became director of the master's program in a
combination that stuck together for close to a decade. We virtually went overnight
from maybe one Ph.D. [student] in our program to admitting about five a year. They
were top-quality people that went to the best schools [for their bachelor's and
master's degrees], and that really set the reputation moving.
I think the other critical thing, then, other than the national activity and the things I
did at the state level--and I did a lot of things with the media people at the state
level--was the textbook [The Law of Public Communication and 1989 Update to the
Law of Public Communication and 1990 Update to the Law of Public
Communication, coauthored with Kent Middleton]. I did not really have a long-term
goal of what I was going to do for research. I had managed to publish several
articles off of my dissertation and then a couple of other things. I think I probably
thought I was just going to keep doing that. Kent Middleton and I had crossed paths
at several points. I had beaten him out for being head of the law division, and then
he was the head the year after I was.
F: This is of the AEJMC?
C: Right. I had beaten him out for the North Carolina job, and then he went to Texas.
He called me and asked me if I would join him in [writing] a media law book. I was
not so sure that I wanted to do that, but Kent had an idea that I thought would work.
He wanted to write a book for all journalism majors, not just for news editorial
people. And he wanted to write a book that dealt much more seriously with the
issues that were raised in the cases, and yet teach much more practically for the
students. I thought the idea sounded very exciting, so I essentially said to him that I
would consider it on one ground, and that was that I could largely control the
chapters that I wrote. I knew that that would dictate really the rest of my academic
interest. I did not want to do the things that were related to business and so forth
because that simply was not my interest. But that was fine with him, because he
wanted to do commercial speech, corporate speech, advertising, copyright, and
pornography. Those were exactly the things I did not want to write. He partly
wanted me because of my broadcasting background, and that was fine. Essentially
I got the journalism-oriented chapters plus broadcasting, and that suited me fine. So
I agreed to do that.
Kent and I have an uneasy tension. We do not see things the same way, and we
edit each other's copy viciously. I think that the fact that essentially we put
ourselves through a strainer long before an editor ever saw it is what became a
strength of that book. I think the vision of the book was important, and then I think
the rigorous editing we gave each other [helped a great deal]. The first year the
book was out it was very clear that it was going to be competitive with the major
books in the country, both because sales took off immediately and because of the
reviews that we got.
I guess to fix that story up a bit, when I saw the Florida job, I thought about it,
because obviously any time there is an eminent scholar position at the kind of
money that they were offering, anybody in the field looks at it. But I decided not to
apply because I was very happy at North Carolina. I had just achieved full
professorship, and I was doing what I wanted to do in a wonderful town. My wife
had just gotten a job that she liked. So I really was in no mood to leave. Dr. Kurt
Kent called--I was still head of the graduate division at that time--and asked me if I
would apply. I said, "I really do not want the job." He said, "Well, apply anyway." I
said OK and sent an application. When I heard that I was one of the top four
[candidates], I seriously considered not coming because I did not want to unfairly
lead them to believe that I might take the job. But I thought that it was enough of a
chance that it probably might be worth their while, because the job sounded
What became very clear is that the reason Florida was looking at me was because
not only was I published, not only did I have a national reputation in the field
because of my offices, but I was from a very strong, recognized school of journalism
and had had extensive experience with graduate students. Not only had I worked
for ten years as director of the master's committee, or however many years it works
out to be on the vita, but I also had been director of the entire graduate program for
one year and had had several doctoral students at that point. At least twice I had
attracted to the University of North Carolina, to work with me, the best doctoral
students in law in the country [Bob Copple and Mike Warden], competing with the
schools like Wisconsin at Madison. During the process, I became very aware that
that was part of what this University was very interested in: getting my expertise in
graduate education and understanding of research to develop a media law program
here and to play a major role in the graduate faculty. They were very much looking
at this as a situation where someone coming in from a very strong school could act
in a leadership role in developing [a quality graduate program in media law]. I think
the doctoral program at that point was in its second or third year. It was probably in
its first or second year, actually. It was very, very young at that point. So that was
one of the things they were looking for, and I think that is one of the [reasons why I
was such a strong candidate]. I would say that that was a variety of the most
important experiences of why I got here.
The one thing that you have mentioned that I have not dealt with I will explain briefly,
and then you can pursue it or Sam [Proctor, Distinguished Service Professor of
History and director of the Oral History Project, University of Florida] can pursue it
later. The items on my vita about the House of Representatives are actually less
important than they appear. I did testify [on H.R. 3333, The Communications Act of
1979], I did have something in their hearings, I did work with Representative Al Swift
of the state of Washington. But considering what I know now, I did not know very
much about broadcast regulation. I know a lot more now than I did then. I
brainstormed with them a couple of times, but I did not play a significant [role] in the
rewrite. I was just one of the little academic players--they were looking at people
other than media representatives. It was a good experience for me, but I cannot say
that I did anything that really affected national public policy.
F: At this point we have had a nice little chance to go from and then come back to the
Brechner Center. We have taken a lot of your time, and I really appreciate it. We
hope to be interviewing you within a month or two. Thank you very much for your