It is hard to believe that more than 25 years have passed since I was one of Dr. Cole’s “J-students.” I took one of his first journalism courses, way back in 1977. I was a junior then, editor of The Seal and a feature writer for The Signal. ?
In Intro to Journalism, we learned how to write all kinds of news stories, even “obits.”?We laughed uncomfortably while writing about the dead, and Dr. Cole enhanced the joke by making up funny names and circumstances. I never anticipated that I would call upon this knowledge some years later when I wrote my dad’s obituary in 1995.
I took a feature writing course with Dr. Cole too and, with his encouragement, got my first paid byline in the Bucks County Courier Times. It was a story about history professor Alan Dawley who won the Bancroft Award (a top prize from Columbia University) for his history book that was considered a work of Marxian scholarship.
I loved my time at Trenton State College. I was very involved in all of my classes and many extracurricular activities. I welcomed the opportunity to develop my leadership and editorial abilities. But one of the high points of my college career was studying journalism with Dr. Cole. He had a passion for the press that captivated his talented, young students.?He didn’t just teach us how to write, he taught us how to think.
There we were – just two years after President Nixon had resigned thanks to the events of Watergate uncovered by Washington Post reporters Woodward and Bernstein – being regaled by Dr. Cole about the full power and potential of a free press. ?
In the manner of a Pentecostal preacher, Dr. Cole would pace and pound his fist as he railed against “the dirty sum bitch politicians.” ?
He warned us that politicians were not to be trusted, because they had their own self-interests at heart and not the people they represented. ?
Dr. Cole taught us to question and to dig, dig, dig. ?We didn’t have the speed of the Internet for our research then – not even word processors.?We wrote longhand and used clunky old typewriters with correction tapes. ?
I remember we took a field trip into Trenton and learned how to look up property deeds and other official records in big old dusty books.
Dr. Cole taught us about the Sunshine Law too, which mandated that government meetings be open to the public.?The law was fairly new back in the 1970s.?I thought of Dr. Cole recently when officials in my own Massachusetts seaside city were chastened by the local prosecutor for violating that law.
It wasn’t just the motives of politicians that Dr. Cole said were suspect, but those of the media, as well. ?We read a great book about journalistic ethics called “The Messenger’s Motives” that is still in my personal library.?We also read “The Boys on the Bus” by Hunter S. Thompson, about coverage of the 1972 presidential campaign. ?
Another thorny issue we considered, still relevant in this age of infotainment: can someone be informed enough to carry out his or her duties as a U.S. citizen simply by watching the television news?
Dr. Cole’s mantra, which I adopted as my own, was “accuracy, accuracy, accuracy!” ?
The best teachers teach us how to think, so that the learning can continue long after the class ends.?Dr. Cole was one of those teachers. ?He taught with energy, enthusiasm and empathy for his sometimes beleaguered and harried students. He had a way of alighting the imaginations of young minds. ?
For me, and for many, the fire that Dr. Cole ignited continues to burn.?He has influenced not only my writing and my approach to thinking about things, but my tutoring work with high school students, as well. He was a fantastic model for how to approach things in the classroom. ?
We might say with regret as Dr. Cole retires, “If only we had 10 more of Dr. Cole!” Well, there will never be someone quite like Bob Cole – it is impossible to clone him.?Yet he touched many of us so deeply that, all these years later, we carry on his noble tradition, pass along his positive energy and pay tribute to him in the process.