Former Mercury News Publisher Joins Campus Journalism Faculty

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Former publisher of the San Jose Mercury News Jay T. Harris has joined UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism and will begin teaching there this spring.

Harris will draw on his seven years at the Mercury News and 30 years in journalism to discuss the state of the media in a public lecture series to begin in April.

Appointed to the first fellowship sponsored by the journalism school and the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education, he is also expected to lecture in several journalism classes and participate on panels throughout the semester.

Harris will remain an active member of the Pulitzer Prize Board of Directors and the National Advisory Board of the Poynter Institute.

Dean of the School of Journalism Orville Schell said Harris's career in the real world of news reporting, along with his teaching experience at Northwestern University, make him a valuable addition to the faculty.

"He's a person who knows editing and publishing. He's been on the editorial side of newspapering as well as the business side," Schell said.

Schell described Harris as "a man of ethical fortitude," having "high journalistic ethics."

Last March, Harris resigned from the Mercury News protesting budget cuts, which he said would compromise the paper's news coverage.

"One of my concerns is that ownership structures in newspapers and other media corporations have shifted from public service to shareholder profitability," Harris said.

As an example, Harris pointed to the increase in shows such as "The McLaughlin Group," which he said, are "far less about informing people than entertaining people."

In fact, this trend toward profit-driven news based on ratings is a major issue he will raise during his lectures.

"My goal is to help people at Berkeley, both students and faculty, understand what is happening to an institution which is essential to the vitality of the society we live in," Harris said.

On news coverage of the war, Harris said that reporting both sides is essential to the American public. Because foreign reporting is costly, the lack of overseas correspondents has limited the nation's perspective., he said.

"American journalism has generally done an increasingly poor job over the last decade or so of covering international affairs," Harris said. "That has been to the detriment of the American people's understanding of the great currents in global life, and has, to a certain extent, given them a one-dimensional focus."

He also said that constraints on civil liberties have not been sufficiently covered, and should be given more attention.

"The rights of Arab Americans should not be in any way curtailed," Harris said. "I worry that the spirit of the law may be falling short."

Although Harris said he hopes his greatest achievement is yet to come, his contributions so far have significantly impacted the journalism world.

Under his direction at the Mercury News, the newspaper was ranked "one of the ten best newspapers in the country," said Kathleen Maclay, a spokesperson for the university.

Harris also launched weekly Spanish and Vietnamese language newspapers for the Mercury News' non-English speaking community. Both, he said, remain successful.

"Over the years, one of the things that has been a focus for me is ensuring that journalism serves the needs of various populations-ethnic populations, for example, that have not been served by mainstream media historically," Harris said.

Diversifying newsrooms has been another one of Harris' goals. While teaching at Northwestern in 1978, Harris established the American Society of Newspaper Editors' annual census of minority employment at newspapers.

While publisher of the Mercury News, Harris "built one of the industry's most diverse staffs and management teams," Maclay said. Minorities, in fact, constitute 30 percent of the newspaper's staff.

Harris is also expected to write a column on media issues twice a month for the Web sites of the journalism school and the institute.

Though he is not sure what he will be doing five years from now, Harris said he is "very excited about (his) immediate prospects."


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