Thursday, January 2, 2014

J-SCHOOL: Speak up now; it'll help later

I wasn't a natural talker when I was in college in the 1970s. I'm still pretty quiet, but I learned to talk when I need to.

Going to Radford College (now Radford University), I took journalism under Charles Millsaps (I'm fairly sure of the spelling), and Charles (yes, I called him Charles, but not in class; his call) required J-school students to talk.

Every time he made a statement, I rebutted it. If he asked a question, I tried to answer it. It got to the point where Charles would say something, then smile slightly and lean his head my way, assuming I was going to speak up. And I usually did, if I could think of anything to say.

It surprised me, but I actually learned a lot from having to talk. It forced me to think, something necessary for journalists. I learned to do the same in other classes, and it helped there, too.

I watched a lot of my friends and classmates go to class after class and never speak up. They were probably making B's and were happy with them. I'd take a B if I had to, but I was always shooting for an A.

I remember one special A. The class was Journalism Law, and my average was hovering around 93.5 (you needed a 94 for an A in that class). I was taking 17 hours that quarter, and J-Law would decide whether I'd make the dean's list.

I needed a 95 on my final test to ace the class. When I got the test back, I noticed that Charles had given me one point and added a note that said that he gave me the point for speaking up in class. It turns out the point gave me the 95 on the test, and that gave me an A for the class.

And that helped me get an A for the quarter, plus my only visit to the dean's list. I had a good GPA, but I was more interested in working for the college newspaper and the college information office; that's where you learn.

The moral? Talking at the right time made a difference in college, and it's helped me through a long (and sometimes distinguished) journalism career.

Time to be quiet again.

CONTACT: I can be reached at or Also, my Twitter handle is EDITORatWORK.

Anecdotes by Tom Gillispie

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