Journalist Elmer Smith visited Professor Richard Aregood’s History of Mass Media class. Smith discussed his own personal history and gave advice on how he became successful through the years.
After a long career in newspapers, 29 of those years at The Philadelphia Daily News, Smith is now a professor at the university he attended some 38 years earlier. Smith returned to Temple University in North Philadelphia to teach journalism.
As a professor of journalism, he stresses that journalism is not about writing. “We (journalist) are information gatherers,” said Smith. He explains that being a good writer does not make you a good journalist, being able to investigate, make calls, show the interest of the public, and much more, but for Smith it was about “portraying the community he came from” he said as he stood in the crammed room of about 20 students. Being from West Philadelphia, Smith wanted to show a different side of the city in a way that was not done before.
Smith didn’t always want to be a journalist; in fact he attended Temple University as a young teen to follow a girl. He jokingly says he majored in what would soon to be his wife, but when they tied the knot in 1969 Smith found himself not knowing what he wanted to do with his life, let alone study in college.
Going into his senior year at Temple with a wife, daughter, and part time job, Smith decided to study journalism while working as an overnight re-write man at The Philadelphia Bulletin for a then-very good wage of five dollars per hour.
Just before graduation Smith was offered a full time job at The Bulletin for slightly less than his part time wage. Working day time work with an overwhelming amount of white men on the newsroom floor was hard for Smith, he struggled with figuring out why he was hired, the reasons why they would want him to be a part of this atmosphere, and what he could bring to the table as a news reporter. “I’m here because someone has to be there who knows what I know,” said Smith after making a correction that no one had caught before being sent to the copy editor.
From there a group came about called BFB – Black Folks at the Bulletin. This was an effort to diversify the newsroom and bring in professional people who knew and were connected to the community in different ways.
Smith ended his lecture to Rutgers – Camden students with the idea that BFB was formed in part to sensitize the newsroom. “When a black story comes up, we don’t want to have to send the black guy” said Smith. This idea and motion brings up a good point not only then but today as well. Newsrooms need to be more in touch with their communities and be diverse in their knowledge in order to bring good and unbiased news to newspapers.