Walter Hussman Jr. and his family, the owners of many South Arkansas newspapers, has made a $25 million gift to establish the Hussman School of Journalism and Media at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The Hussmans, through WEHCO Media, own weekly newspapers in Magnolia and Camden, daily newspapers in El Dorado, Texarkana and Hot Springs, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, and other newspapers, magazines and cable television systems in six states.
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Hussman is a North Carolina graduate.
According to a statement from the university, the Hussmans are “doubling down on their commitment to restoring that bond and trust between media and the public.”
“I believe that by adopting (WEHCO Media’s) core values, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s journalism school can be the leader and serve as an example for other journalism schools in America to follow,” said Hussman, who is chairman of WEHCO Media Inc.
“This naming gift provides $25 million in endowed funds to build for the future and invest in the people who have made this school a national leader — our professors, our staff, our students and all of the promise they represent,” said Susan King, dean of the Hussman School. “The Hussman family’s passion for journalism is based on unwavering values. Their generosity and vision extend transformational support across all of the media disciplines that we teach and research and serve. Core values are at the root of all we do.”
“From Edward Kidder Graham’s first journalism course at Carolina to today, UNC’s School of Media and Journalism has prepared thousands of students to discover the truth, foster democracy through dynamic communications and ignite the public conversation across our state and around the world,” said Interim Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz. “We are grateful that one of those students, Walter Hussman, is investing to make this school the leading force for good journalism in our state. His core values reflect the priorities and principles of the entire community here at Carolina, and it is a privilege to name our school in honor of his visionary leadership in media.”
Carolina first launched the university’s journalism program as a department in the College of Arts & Sciences in 1924.
“It would be difficult to overstate the impact of this gift during this pivotal time of economic dislocation and mounting distrust amid campaigns to discredit reporting, journalism and media institutions,” King said. “The Hussman family’s stalwart belief in the future of journalism, its critical role in a democratic society — and our school as a guardian of its foundational values — is both a signal and calling to remain grounded in principles as we innovate, invent and lead the way through the challenges of this era.”
The Hussman family previously established two endowed professorships at Carolina — in the journalism school and the School of Education.
Walter Hussman Jr. has spent his entire life in the news business.
His grandfather, Clyde Palmer, bought the family’s first newspaper in 1909, and over the next 48 years acquired and published five daily newspapers — mostly in Arkansas. Clyde’s daughter, Betty Palmer, met Walter Hussman Sr. at the journalism school at the University of Missouri, and they married in 1931. Walter Hussman Sr. published the family newspapers for 50 years, until 1981, and also expanded into radio and television broadcasting stations and cable television systems.
Hussman Jr. began working at the Camden News when he was 10 years old in 1957. He continued working at his family’s newspapers in the summers throughout high school. He majored in journalism and graduated from Carolina in 1968, then earned an MBA at Columbia University in 1970.
After serving as a reporter for Forbes Magazine, Hussman returned to his family’s business. His family acquired the Arkansas Democrat in 1974, and at age 27, he became publisher of the Arkansas Democrat. He became president of WEHCO Media in 1981. In 1991, the company acquired the assets of the Arkansas Gazette and renamed the newspaper the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. The family acquired the Chattanooga Free Press and Chattanooga Times and merged those papers into the Chattanooga Times Free Press in early 1999. They acquired Missouri’s Jefferson City News Tribune, Fulton Sun and the weekly California Democrat in 2008.
Hussman has served as president of the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association and on the boards of the Associated Press and C-SPAN. He was Editor and Publisher magazine’s Publisher the Year in 2008, named a distinguished alumnus of UNC-Chapel Hill in 2009 and named Arkansan of the Year in 2019 by Easterseals Arkansas.
He has also been active in K-12 education and prison ministry in his home state of Arkansas.
In recent years, Hussman’s children Palmer Hussman, Carolina alumnae Olivia Ramsey and Eliza Gaines — a 2012 master’s graduate from the journalism school — have played active roles at WECHO. The gift to Carolina, Hussman said, honors the four generations of his family who have dedicated their lives to news and journalism.
“We’re really happy that we can do this to support Carolina and to support journalism,” said Ben Hussman, Hussman’s wife.
When Walter Hussman Jr. graduated from Carolina’s School of Journalism in 1968, the news industry was on the rise. Carolina alumni such as Charles Kuralt and David Brinkley, were already trusted news sources and would inspire a new generation of journalists who themselves promoted the fundamental values they learned at Carolina.
“You could trust a journalist to tell you the facts and let you make up your own mind,” said Hussman.
But that trust, Hussman said, has been eroding as some in the media industry have moved away from its founding principles.
“We’re seeing people questioning who they can trust,” Hussman said. “Americans are beginning to realize they can’t trust a lot of what they see on the internet. They need to rely on a trusted source of professional journalism. We need to renew the values, standards and practices that have stood the test of time.”
Hussman may have learned a lot from his family, but he honed his skills and solidified his values at Carolina, he said.
“Carolina has one of the best journalism schools in America, as acknowledged by every rating group you can find. It’s where I went to journalism school; it’s where I learned these core values of journalism,” he said.
Hussman said he hopes his investment to train the next generation will help reverse the decline in the public trust of the media. He wants the core values printed on the second page of his newspapers to become ingrained in all journalists.
“Journalism is so important to America’s democracy, it’s so important to our future, and it’s so important to reestablish the trust with the public,” he said. “I believe the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and its journalism school can be leaders in this endeavor.”
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