Walter Hussman Jr.’s family has been in the newspaper business since 1909. Hussman, who started working at the Camden News in Arkansas at age 10 and is a 1968 graduate of Carolina’s journalism school, has put his deep faith in the profession to work for the 69-year-old school with a $25 million gift that has renamed it the Hussman School of Journalism and Media.
It is the largest gift to the school, which started as a department in 1924.
“It would be difficult to overstate the impact of this gift during this pivotal time of economic dislocation and mounting distrust amid campaigns to discredit reporting, journalism and media institutions,” Dean Susan King said. “The Hussman family’s stalwart belief in the future of journalism, its critical role in a democratic society — and our school as a guardian of its foundational values — is both a signal and calling to remain grounded in principles as we innovate, invent and lead the way through the challenges of this era.
“Our faculty, staff and alumni will have confidence that we are up for the challenge — we are going to persevere in the digital age with values, innovation and determination.
“This is a transformative gift for the school, not just for now, but for the future — for not one generation, but for generations to come.”
Printed on the second page of each of the 10 daily newspapers Hussman and his family now own are these core values: objectivity, impartiality, integrity and truth-seeking. The school reported that this credo will be chiseled in granite at the entryway of Carroll Hall.
Hussman said he hopes his investment to train the next generation will help reverse the decline in the public trust of the media.
“I believe that by adopting these core values, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s journalism school can be the leader and serve as an example for other journalism schools in America to follow,” Hussman said. “We’re seeing people questioning who they can trust. Americans are beginning to realize they can’t trust a lot of what they see on the internet. They need to rely on a trusted source of professional journalism. We need to renew the values, standards and practices that have stood the test of time.”
The Hussman family previously established two endowed professorships at Carolina — in the journalism school and the School of Education.
Former UNC President Edward Kidder Graham (class of 1898) taught the first journalism course in 1909, 15 years before the department was created.
“From Edward Kidder Graham’s first journalism course at Carolina to today, UNC’s School of Media and Journalism has prepared thousands of students to discover the truth, foster democracy through dynamic communications and ignite the public conversation across our state and around the world,” said Interim Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz.
Hussman’s grandfather, Clyde Palmer, bought the family’s first newspaper in 1909 and over the next 48 years acquired and published five daily newspapers — mostly in Arkansas. Walter Hussman Sr. published the family newspapers for 50 years, until 1981, and expanded into radio and television broadcasting stations and cable television systems.
Hussman Jr. continued working at the newspapers in the summers throughout high school. After graduating from Carolina, he earned an MBA at Columbia University in 1970.
Hussman was a reporter for Forbes magazine before returning to his family’s business. The family acquired the Arkansas Democrat in 1974, and at age 27, he became its publisher. He became president of WEHCO Media in 1981. In 1991, the company acquired the assets of the Arkansas Gazette and renamed the newspaper the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. The family acquired the Chattanooga Free Press and Chattanooga Times and merged those papers in 1999.
WEHCO Media now owns dozens of media outlets in six states. Hussman is a past president of the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association and has been on the boards of The Associated Press and C-SPAN. He was Editor & Publisher magazine’s Publisher of the Year in 2008. He is a 2009 recipient of UNC’s Distinguished Alumni Award, and he was inducted into the N.C. Media and Journalism Hall of Fame in 2014.
In recent years Hussman’s children — Palmer Hussman, Olivia Ramsey ’09 and Eliza Gaines ’09 (’12 MA) — have played active roles at WEHCO. The gift to Carolina, Hussman said, honors the four generations of his family who have dedicated their lives to news and journalism.
The Hussman School is the fifth named school at Carolina, joining Kenan-Flagler Business School, the Gillings School of Global Public Health, the Eshelman School of Pharmacy and the Adams School of Dentistry.
• “Naming Rites”, July/August 2007 Review