Snedden Chair brings experience and perspective to journalism department

Erin McGroarty/ Sun Star Reporter
October 9, 2012

Each year, the University of Alaska Fairbanks welcomes a visiting professor in Journalism. This year’s visiting professor is Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and foreign news correspondent, Lewis Simons. Simons brings a unique view of journalism to the department after working in the industry since 1964.

Starting in 2005, this seat has been filled through a generous donation from Helen Snedden, in honor of her late husband and well known publisher, Charles Willis Snedden. Over the years, the journalism department has received a large number of visiting professors and lecturers.

Originally from New Jersey, Simons received his undergraduate degree in English Literature from New York University, and continued on to attend Columbia University’s school of Journalism where he received his graduate degree in 1964. This was also where he received his first job offer from the Associated Press and met his wife Carol.

“I have to say, if I had been thinking about Journalism as an undergraduate, I would not have majored in English. I would have majored in economics or history or something,” Simons said.

While discussing his undergraduate degree, Simons explained that while he would have much rather majored in a more relevant subject, he did not regret his choice to major in English.

“Read anything and everything, but most importantly, read people who write well,” Simons said.

Directly following his graduation from Columbia, Simons began working for the Associated Press, where he worked for the first seven years of his career as a wire servicereporter. A wire service provides news to smaller news outlets such a local newspapers. Simons left AP to work further with print journalism, in an attempt to expand his horizons. Simons received the Edward R. Murrows journalism fellowship at the Counsel of Foreign Relations in New York City. Through this fellowship, Simons received another degree from Columbia University in International Affairs.

In the following years, Simons would go on to work in multiple Asian bureaus for the Washington Post for 12 years, Knight Ridder and the San Jose Mercury News where he wrote an extended series exposing the multiple money scandals of former Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos, winning his first Pulitzer Prize for journalistic excellence.

“I can actually recall and see in my mind right now,” Simons said, “Where I’d be walking down maybe a back alley in Beijing or some kind of vice infested area of Bangkok and I would say to myself ‘What’s a nice kid like you doing in a place like this?’ and I would just love it.”

This year at UAF is Simon’s first teaching experience in his career. During the spring semester he will be teaching a class on investigative reporting, and this semester his class is covering the past, present and future of journalism.

“I knew nothing, so I was kind of nervous,” Simon said in reference to this semester’s class, “But here we are a month and a half into the semester and I’m loving it. I can’t speak for my students but I must say that from the looks on their faces…I think they appreciate that they’re getting some telling of somebodies first hand experience.”

Simons explained that he felt sure there would always be a place for good journalistic writing, whether that continues to be in print or online. Journalism, Simons said, is taking a turn in a direction that no one can predict, but there is no way that it will disappear completely.

“At the end of the day, I don’t think it matters if you’ve studied journalism as an undergraduate or as a graduate or not at all,” Simons said,”Just give it everything you’ve got and don’t look back.”

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