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Susan King reflects on 10 years as dean of the Hussman School of Journalism and Media

“I've had the opportunity to help leave it better even than I found it, and I found it pretty good.”

Dean Susan King smiles for a portrait in Chapel Hill on Saturday August 21, 2021.

Broadcast journalism graduate Melissa Rademaker left the blazer she wore to film segments of "Carolina Week" — a student TV news program — in Carroll Hall during Spring Break of 2020, just as she always did. But when the pandemic hit, she never went back to get it.

One year later, Rademaker paid a visit to Carroll Hall to pick up that blazer. It was Susan King, dean of the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media, who let her into the building. 

“I thought I was just going to have to sneak into the room, and she turned out to stop me and have a really awesome conversation about Carolina and my experience,” Rademaker said. “I loved Carolina and I loved the (journalism) school, and she definitely made it a very welcoming place and was a big part of my education.”

King announced last week that she will step down as dean at the end of this school year

King originally came to UNC as part of a program she launched to revitalize journalism education during the shift in advertising and content that came with the rise of Facebook and Google. After working very closely with the former dean of the School of Media and Journalism, she fell in love with UNC and its history. 

“And next thing I knew, I was dean,” King said. 

“All I ever wanted to be was a journalist,” she added. “I just was always curious about how journalism covers institutions and holds ideas accountable, and is at the first draft of history. That always just intrigued me – that you could be at the center, shaping a conversation at your school, or your city or your community.”

Prior to coming to UNC, King had a prominent career as a journalist, reporting for broadcast TV and as a White House correspondent, and has been a strong proponent of journalism education. 

“When I was starting out in journalism, I was the first woman in every newsroom I went into,” King said. 

In 1990, she was a co-founder of the International Women’s Media Foundation, which helps to provide safety training, bylines and other opportunities specifically tailored for female journalists and photographers worldwide.

Under King’s leadership, the School of Journalism and Media has expanded significantly to one of UNC’s largest majors and exceeded its $75 million dollar fundraising goal under the Campaign for Carolina.

During her time as dean, King also founded MEJO 101: The Media Revolution: From Gutenberg to Zuckerberg and Beyond — an introductory class to the world of media — in order to expose more students to the major. Prior to the pandemic, she regularly co-taught the class with another professor.

“She's been really great with students, starting with that class,” Lois Boynton, an associate professor in the journalism school who has co-taught the course with King, said. “Part of the reason of doing that was for her, not only to get to know students, but to know the faculty — what their jobs are like, what their concerns are, what we experience in our jobs.”

One of her largest projects was the Curtis Media Center, which is currently under construction and will house production studios and new technologies once completed.

She also brought initiatives to UNC, such as the Ida B. Wells Society for Investigative Reporting, the goal of which is to increase the number of trained journalists of color in investigative reporting, in 2019. The society was co-founded by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, who was set to join the faculty as the next Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism before UNC initially failed to offer her tenure with the position. 

As pressure mounted from those opposed to her work on The New York Times’ 1619 Project — including from the school’s namesake, Walter Hussman — King was vocal about her support for hiring Hannah-Jones.

“I think that the school really came together during this process in realizing that it was really important that we do emphasize, particularly, diversity of race and encourage more students to come into the school and make sure that they feel challenged and welcomed," King said.

Gary Marchionini, chairperson of the search committee charged with finding a new dean, said King has had a tremendous impact on the journalism school. 

"The search committee will do its best to identify a leader who continues to advance the excellence and influence of the school," Marchionini said in a statement.

Although she is leaving her position as dean once her successor is named, King plans to return to the school as a tenured faculty member, teaching any courses in advertising, public relations and journalism that the school needs taught.

“As somebody who always wanted to be a journalist, and has always been in communications and feels the power of our jobs for good — even though we often make mistakes or get people mad at us — I feel how lucky I've been to be at this great school,” King said. “I've had the opportunity to help leave it better even than I found it, and I found it pretty good.”

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