Dr. Art Kaul was at his best when he got to talk about the scandal-loving newspapers of the late 19th Century.
He brought in copies of the Weekly World News and jumped up and down as he read stories like "Alabama hunters shoot, kill angel from Heaven," "Pickup truck found in outer space," and "10 ways to get J-Lo's butt!"
When he read the story about the hunters, this frail-looking, pipe-smoking man with a thick, bushy beard and large eye glasses, summoned the most outrageous, bizarre, stereotypical, backwoods-redneck accent he could muster. He left his students rolling in the aisles with laughter.
He loved to point out that the Pulitzer Prize -- "the symbol of excellence in journalism" as he was fond of calling it in a theatrical, puffed-up voice -- was named after a man who ran the National Enquirer of his day.
Dr. Kaul was my "History of Journalism" professor, and my academic advisor at the University of Southern Mississippi. Last week, he lost his battle with cancer. He began teaching at Southern Miss in 1984, and only stopped this spring because his health had become too much of an issue.
There are many things my former advisor taught me about journalism. The first thing was patience. See, I wasn't exactly the highest-achieving student at Southern Miss, and it took his quiet nudging and encouragement to get my college education back on track.
I remember several advisement-week trips to his office, which contained just about every single thing he had accumulated during his academic career crammed into that tiny space.
I would bring in the list of classes I wanted to take, and he'd write them down on my advisement form. Sometimes, he'd stroke his beard while writing down the course code, almost as if he was thinking, "Why does he want to take THAT class?"
Another thing he taught me was that the media tends to think it's more important than it really is. He saw the industry for the total, and utterly embarrassing, farce that it can be from time to time. And, oh how he was right. The cable news networks' obsession with B-List "celebrities," such as Anna Nicole Smith and Britney Spears, confirms his viewpoint all too often.
He realized the media, particularly the television media, tends to take a non-issue and drag it on far longer than the public really cares about the matter.
Finally, it was just plain fun to listen to his lectures on journalism history. He was always so animated when he really got into a tale. He'd run from side to side in front of the class.
He had a receding hairline and a comb over, so when he really got into his lectures, that hair would be flopping all over the place. He always started class with his hair in order. He always finished with it in disarray.
He never cared much for the New York Times' "All the news that's fit to print" slogan, either. He just saw the news for what it is - the news. To Dr. Kaul, everything was important, whether it was a hard-news item, such as an in-depth look at a serious issue, or a bright on nothing of any real importance to the readership.
He saw both the serious and not-so serious stories as counter balances for each other, which kept a publication fair, objective and interesting.
He just never cared much for the tabloids.
Curt Yeomans covers education for the Clayton News Daily. He can be reached at (770) 478-5753, ext. 247 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.