Friday, June 28, 2013

CAUSES | Professor Emeritus Jake Highton creates scholarship endowment for journalism students

Professor Jake Highton

Why you should donate to the Highton Scholarship Endowment for students
Professor Emeritus Jake Highton has established a scholarship endowment in his name to support journalism students at the Donald W. Reynolds School of Journalism and Center for Advanced Media Studies.

Jake arrived at the University in 1981, taught for three decades and was a four-time Senior Scholar mentor. He spent 15 years in newspapers and was a reporter for the Baltimore Evening Sun, copy editor for the Los Angeles Times and Detroit News, editorial writer and columnist for the Detroit News and book reviewer for the Detroit Free Press. He has also written a history of Nevada journalism, textbooks on reporting and editing, and 16 books containing 25 years of his columns for the Sparks Tribune. Highton writes cover articles for the Reno News & Review and still speaks at media conferences.

To learn more about supporting the Jake Highton Scholarship Endowment or to support the Reynolds School of Journalism, please contact Kristin Burgarello, director of development, (775) 784-4471 or

Link to donation page (click the drop-down for Jake's endowment):

How I got Jake'd
In an interview I gave for my alumni magazine, the editors of Nevada Silver & Blue asked: Which University of Nevada-Reno faculty inspired you the most/made the most difference in your becoming the successful writer that you are today?

It was the perfect moment to share what I really felt about Jake — to out Professor Softie who teaches under the guise of the Toughest Grader of the Wild Wild West.

His name is Jake Highton. A longtime journalism professor, he is my teacher, friend, adviser—and fellow letter-writer. I took every course Jake taught. I was not scared of Jake's reputation as a tough, pugnacious and fiery taskmaster. He was the professor to avoid if you were looking for an easy A.

Noting that he seldom gives A’s, Highton said, “A means excellent. I have few students that are excellent.”

Jake was so hard-line measly at giving A's that when he retired someone created a Facebook support group for those who got "Jake'd"!

There's a spot-on blog post, "The Jake Effect," which made me laugh when I first read it. It made me realize that I belong to an unofficial club: Those Who Survived a Class with Jake. The blogger Amy Minor wrote:
"The club was made up of stressed-out students comparing equally bad grades. The amount of his hastily-penned — perhaps even violently-scratched — red-ink corrections caused almost everyone considerable anxiety. The harsh feedback I received remains etched in my memory, like the beautifully alliterative: “WOEFULLY WEAK.” But as time goes by, a sense of pride sneaks up on you as you say, “Yeah, I had Jake, too.”
To this day, I follow the Highton Style of Attribution: It’s so-and-so SAID! Not said so-and-so. Reading other journalists' articles, I frown when I see how they always attribute quotes with ‘said’ in the wrong place. Usually at the very end of an over-long quote.

Full confession: Jake violently scrawled red-ink notes and corrections over the articles I banged out in class. Nevertheless he gave me straight A's in all his classes.

Maybe I am biased. As a former student said: "If they every make a movie about Jake, they should get Johnny Depp to play him. No one else could capture that swashbuckling yet sensitive bird-watching French-infused hard-hitting journalist thing he has going on."

One day Jake struck up a conversation with me. He invited me to his office. He said that he had been avidly reading my movie columns in the Sagebrush, the college newspaper. He wondered why I did not sign up to major in print journalism.

Fortunately, Jake did not judge my wrong-headed academic choices. He did not push me to switch majors. He mostly encouraged me to study investigative reporting and editing, which I did. His media-law and ethics classes fired my passion for First Amendment absolutism, progressive politics and the Supreme Court. His classes on the history of New York newspapers spurred me to take that first cross-country ride in a Greyhound bus from Reno to New York.

I have a vivid recollection of that May evening when I drove up to Jake’s old apartment in my secondhand Toyota. I showed up at his door to take my leave. I told him I was moving to New York for good.

Jake and I have kept in close contact over the years. Every time I visit Reno, we always have lunch at Archie's. He was one of the first people I informed after I received on Thanksgiving Eve a phone call from the chair of the Nathan Award who informed me that this year’s judges selected me as the winner of the George Jean Nathan Award for dramatic criticism.

A few days later, an envelope appeared in the mail. It contained Jake’s clippings, I assumed (rightly), from the morgue he fastidiously keeps. Over the years Jake would randomly send me clippings of articles he's read, usually with felt-pen markings on them. The articles explained everything about the noted drama critic George Jean Nathan, the journalist-critic H.L. Mencken (whose gleeful barbs Jake quotes by heart), and the two ferociously funny New York magazines they had founded called The Smart Set and The American Mercury. But I digress.

In classes and in his columns, Jake styles himself as vivid anti-establishment voice — a rebel. There are strong political reasons he slapped the titles No! and Wrong on his most recent books. This thorn-on-the-side-of-mainstream attitude harks directly to the first book I read of his, The Spirit That Says No.

But let me clue you into a big secret: Jake is actually a guy’s guy with an enormous heart.

From the very beginning, Jake pushed me to think bigger — to test my mettle in a bigger pond. “Discipline, discipline, discipline,” Jake frequently avows.

Look, the guy has financially supported me. When I attended Bard College to study film criticism and social-issues reporting (under New Yorker writer George W.S. Trow, New York Magazine film critic David Edelstein, New York Review of Books author Sue Halpern, and the great environmentalist Bill McKibben), Jake donated funds to help pay for my transportation. The time I spent at Bard College changed my life.

When I settled in New York City and began writing for the Village Voice, Jake made me the subject of one of his Daily Sparks Tribune columns. Who does that?

I think of Jake as a wild cat–dreamer — a closet Romantic. He puts on a fierce demeanor. Yet hard-hearted Highton cares. He inspires his students to aspire to be the greatest journalists of our generation.

The Jake I know is the spirit who consistently said Yes. — rg

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