All for the love of journalism

All for the love of journalism

Thursday, May 4, 2017 - 1:45pm
Don Ferguson
Don Ferguson

Consider it a career crash course and test drive in one—something that may possibly influence a young person’s lifelong career.

This is what high school students can expect with Explore Media, a summer program that allows them to encounter real-life journalism experiences, skills and careers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

And it’s the reason Nebraska alumnus Donald L. Ferguson of Palm Springs, California, has announced a generous planned gift to the College of Journalism and Mass Communications. The bequest to the University of Nebraska Foundation will one day provide support for the college’s Explore Media program.

Each summer, Explore Media, formerly called Media Academy, gives prospective students an intense, five-day summer workshop to become immersed in mass communications. Students work alongside media professionals and faculty to gain experience in journalism, broadcasting, public relations, advertising and more. They also have the opportunity to showcase their own communications throughout their week on campus. 

Moreover, the experience gives students a personal opportunity to discover Lincoln and experience life on a Big Ten university campus during their stay at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. 

“I am a strong believer in high school journalism programs and using them to interest young people in journalism as a career,” Ferguson said. “My legacy gift to Nebraska is designated to support the Explore Media program and to be used for other innovative instructional needs as determined by the college.

“It’s my desire that these programs and scholarships encourage young people to pursue careers in journalism.”

A native of North Platte and graduate of North Platte High School, Ferguson has enjoyed an illustrious communications career spanning more than five decades. It’s a career he in many ways attributes to the own student scholarship support he received to pursue his education and career.

He received a scholarship from the North Platte Telegraph in 1958 which initially enabled him to attend the University of Nebraska and graduate in 1963. He’s also grateful for a scholarship award from the Lincoln Journal Star that helped with tuition and books at Northwestern University for his master’s degree in journalism.

After college, one of his most enjoyable jobs was teaching journalism at Southeast High School in Lincoln and instructing summer journalism courses at University of Nebraska–Lincoln for high school students. Later, he taught journalism and served as assistant to the dean at The Ohio State University School of Journalism and completed a Radford Visiting Teaching Professorship at Baylor University.

“While the majority of my career was in public relations related functions, I have always considered myself to be a journalist and used the high standards of a journalism professional,” Ferguson said.

Alan Eno, assistant professor of practice who helps lead the Explore Media program, said the bequest from Don Ferguson means the college will be able to invest more in development of the program’s curriculum, invite influential and experienced guest media experts and provide additional scholarship awards to help make the program even more accessible for students.

“This generous gift will help students the most, as the real benefit of Explore Media is the exposure they get to technology and all the opportunities in journalism and media they may not yet know about,” Eno said. “It gives them experience with media earlier, which can help them make more informed decisions when looking at college programs and majors.

Eno said the program is also an important recruiting tool for the college.

“It gives students a chance to really check Nebraska out, see what we believe in and how we can best help them when they get here,” he said.

The gift from Ferguson also provides support for Our Students, Our Future, the University of Nebraska’s current initiative seeking broad support for students.

A career dedicated to education, professional communication

Ferguson said he has fond and proud memories of teaching journalism in Lincoln.

“Three current faculty members in the college had their first taste of journalism at Southeast High as students of mine,” Ferguson said. “They’ve had great careers.”

Among the faculty members he taught are Rick Alloway, Mary Kay Quinlan and Stacy James, who recently retired. 

Ferguson’s influence in journalism education has actually spilled well beyond Nebraska to make a difference for countless students and their teachers across the country.

Ferguson coauthored “Journalism Today” which became the leading high school journalism textbook. Created together with former Nebraska journalism professor Jim Patten, who later headed the journalism program at University of Arizona, the textbook and its supporting works were published by McGraw Hill for 35 years with more than a half million copies sold since the first edition in 1972.

“It is humbling to know that several hundred thousand high school students were exposed to our concept of effective journalism and ethics in their high schools across America,” Ferguson said.

Ferguson is owner and a principal of Ferguson Public Relations in Palm Springs. Prior to establishing the firm, he was a senior consultant and former partner and senior vice president of Fleishman-Hillard in San Francisco.

He also served as a partner of Geduldig & Ferguson, Inc., a New York public relations and consulting firm that merged with Fleishman Hillard in 2004. The firm specialized in crisis and issues management, corporate branding and reputation, media relations, marketing, governmental and environmental communications, counsel to corporate executives, and investor and financial relations.

Among many notable clients Ferguson aided over the years are Avaya, Bayer, Chevron, General Motors, IBM, JPMorgan Chase, Levi Strauss, Mattel, Prudential Financial, Shell, Visa, Westinghouse and many other companies and educational organizations in nearly all 50 states.

A philanthropic legacy for the next generation

The University of Nebraska is not the only beneficiary of Don Ferguson’s investment and vision to support future journalists and corporate communicators.

He established the Rose and Lawrence T. Ferguson Sr. Family Journalism Scholarship in 2001 at the North Platte Public Schools Foundation in honor of his parents and siblings. The scholarship helps students who plan to study journalism after high school, and as of this year 19 students have received $1,000 awards from the fund which will continue until about 2020. He has also established another legacy gift at the North Platte Public Schools Foundation for scholarships and academic programs.

Since his junior year at Nebraska, Ferguson has been a member of the Society of Professional Journalists. He created a fund for the society so it may award scholarships to college students to help them participate in the society’s professional development programs and attend district or national conferences.

To learn more about how a gift, either made now or through a planned gift, can make a difference for students and academics at the College of Journalism and Mass Communications, contact Greg Jensen, senior development director, at 402-458-1181 or