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The Columbia Chronicle

Op-Ed: Former NPR correspondent recalls when she was faculty advisor to the Columbia Chronicle

Op-Ed%3A+Former+NPR+correspondent+recalls+when+she+was+faculty+advisor+to+the+Columbia+Chronicle

Happy 50th, Columbia Chronicle.

I was all of 23 when I was faculty advisor, younger than many of my students. I had a staff position as assistant to my Chicago mentor, the great and late Connie Zonka, who was the college’s incredible PR director. I would never have had that job had it not been for the remarkable firecracker, Kelly Sander, who also worked at the college. (We lived in Uptown and volunteered with ONE, the organization of the northeast — a Saul Alinsky type of community organization.)

Kelly introduced me to Studs Terkel who lived in Uptown and to Playboy Magazine writers (where her ex-husband was the Playboy Advisor). Connie Zonka pulled in the universe to that college. Maria Martinez, the San Ildefonso Pueblo black-on-black potter, who came to us at 100-years-old. Yip Harburg, who wrote “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and “Brother Can You Spare A Dime.” (I have to find the picture of us together.) Eliot Wigginton, who started the Foxfire movement in Appalachia. Abby Mann, who wrote “Judgment at Nuremberg.” (A real creep.) Oriana Fallaci, the great/mad Italian journalist. 

So advising the The Columbia Chronicle was one of my duties, if you can believe it — because I had been a senior editor at my own college newspaper, The Torch, at Valparaiso University, and somehow in there worked for Lerner Newspapers as a freelancer. I had already been fired from my first journalism job at a travel trade magazine, for among other transgressions, having my dress fall off at a fancy party. Oh youth, not wasted on the young. (There is more in my memoir, “Daughter of the Queen of Sheba.”) 

Connie’s husband, Bob Zonka, was the Chicago Sun-Times features editor, and he had discovered Roger Ebert, who was already writing about movies while he was still a student at the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana. They all influenced us. It seems like half of my students wanted to be movie critics but frankly, a lot of them needed to work on basic reportage. 

I was very proud when a number of them went down to Graceland to cover Elvis’ funeral on their own time & dime — though we did put their report in the paper. Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass, now retired, was one of my students. Columbia College was truly the school of life — Chicago, too, was our teacher. 

The wonderful Riccardo’s was our watering hole and grad school, and it was one of my students who tipped me to a job opening at WIND-Westinghouse. I fell back in love with radio. So it is all early history of the Lyden years and I have gratitude for that wonderful laboratory in Chicago every single day. 

Wendy Sander, Milo Zonka and Helene Wineberg were also part of those years. (I babysat for Milo the night the El went off the tracks at Lake Street.) 

Columbia College Chicago also gave me the Al Weisman prize (Tony Weisman) which along with the Playboy Foundation, allowed  me  topublish a photo book with another student, my 19-year-old boyfriend, Chet Jakus, who used a view camera. “Landmarks and Legends of Uptown” is digitally available at Columbia, thanks to Dirk Matthews and team.

I thought I would never have a serious journalism career and yet I did. I spent more than three decades as an award-winning correspondent and host for NPR. I was NPR’s first correspondent on the air from New York during the Sept. 11 attacks, and I reported from Afghanistan and Iraq, where I met the current faculty advisor of the Chronicle, Jackie Spinner, in Baghdad.

As I said to Jackie, journalism will need people of courage, vision and incredible tenacity in the rough years ahead. 

I know the Chronicle students will be more than ready. They have everything going for them. Make us proud.

Jacki Lyden was the faculty advisor to the Columbia Chronicle in the late 1970s. The Chronicle held its 50th anniversary celebration on Saturday, Dec. 2.

Submit an op-ed of no more than 850 words here or email editorialboard@columbiachronicle.com

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