By Pat Lopes Harris, Media Relations Director
San Jose State has lost one of its most influential faculty members of all times: Dwight Bentel, the driving force behind the development of the School of Journalism and Mass Communications, died May 16 at 103.
“Beloved as an outspoken champion of the First Amendment, Dr. Dwight Bentel became one of the most powerful voices in journalism education in California and the nation,” said Professor Bob Rucker, current JMC director.
A true visionary before the term was so often associated with our valley, Bentel saw the potential for mass media way back in the 1930s. He fostered the development of the journalism program at SJSU, which has since trained thousands of reporters, who in turn touched millions of lives.
San Jose State’s journalism school was not the first, but has long been among the best. Early on, perhaps because he was a reporter himself, Bentel emphasized the combination of academic and pre-professional work crucial to producing journalists with the critical thinking skills and hands-on experience needed, not just to land jobs, but serve audiences well. Six Pulitzer Prizes are credited in full or part to SJSU journalism graduates, according to a San Jose Mercury News obituary.
“When you think about how early this program began, that’s what we can thank Dr. Bentel for, the idea that he just saw it coming and grabbed it and put San Jose State at the forefront … in the world of journalism education,” said Kim Komenich, a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner and 1979 SJSU alumnus who now teaches at San Jose State, in a video produced for Bentel’s 100th birthday by students Diana Diroy, Christian Garrucho and Carlos A. Moreno.
So much of what Bentel set in motion remains in place today. Just as they did when Bentel took the reins of the journalism program in the 1930s, students still write, edit and design the Spartan Daily on campus in a classroom equipped for this purpose in a building named in his honor in 1982. Students and faculty advisers still meet at 1 p.m. daily to critique the previous issue, and students still earn three credits, but pour in far more time, for serving on the staff.
Students are still required to do an internship, and the department still offers the sequences established by Bentel in journalism, photo journalism, advertising and public relations. The entire process continues to send hundreds of young journalists into the workforce annually, professionals who are shaping our valley and beyond.
In an age when so many are questioning the relevance and lasting power of journalism, Bentel’s steadfast belief in the First Amendment and all the responsibilities it imparts on communicators remains timeless, as exemplified in this memory recounted in a Spartan Daily tribute written by this term’s managing editor Brittany Patterson:
In an impromptu visit to the student newsroom four years ago, Bentel was speaking in a soft voice when a newspaper staff member asked, What is most important for a journalist, Mr. Bentel?” Bentel interrupted, saying, “Accuracy! Numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. Accuracy! Accuracy! Accuracy!” Then his voice elevated and he rapidly shouted, “Get it right. Get it right. Get it right. Get it right.”
Services are pending, including a campus celebration planned for this fall. Donations may be made to the Dwight Bentel First Amendment Champions Fund, San Jose State University Tower Foundation, One Washington Square, San Jose, CA 95192-0257, or www.sjsu.edu/giving.