Legacy of alum, vet newshound lives on

UND journalism lecturer Chuck Haga honors former colleague by reviving Communication scholarship for next-gen reporters

Chuck Haga

With a little help from some friends, UND Communication Program lecturer Chuck Haga, a retired Grand Forks Herald and Minneapolis Star Tribune writer, is reviving a scholarship named after the late UND alumnus Robert J. Hagen, one of Haga’s former colleagues at The Strib. Photo by Jackie Lorentz.

 Every Tuesday and Thursday morning, at the caffeine-necessitating hour of 8 a.m., UND Communication Program lecturer Chuck Haga is ready to talk journalism.

The retired Grand Forks Herald and Minneapolis Star Tribune writer leads an introductory media writing class, hoping to encourage the next generation of columnists, correspondents and content creators.

“What I most enjoyed about being a journalist was meeting such an incredible variety of people and helping them tell their stories,” Haga recalled. “That’s the passion that I try to convey to the students — Here’s your chance, find your voice. What are you mad about? What are you excited about? Put that into words. Tell stories.”

Now, beyond teaching them style and substance, Haga is helping to ensure that at least one budding writer can pay for an education. He’s worked to revive the Robert J. Hagen Memorial Scholarship, given to a promising journalism student every spring, after the fund ran dry last year.

Robert “Bob” Hagen was a UND graduate and longtime business reporter and editor at the Tribune. He died in 1997 soon after a lung cancer diagnosis, ending the 55-year-old’s 26-year career at the paper. Haga worked closely with Hagen during his time at the Tribune.

“He was a remarkable guy — very popular, very likeable, very thoughtful.” Haga said.  “He continued working, even after the diagnosis, when he was told he had a couple of months to live. He so self-identified as a business journalist that it didn’t occur to him to take those last couple of months to sit at home and feel sorry for himself.”

The scholarship that bears Hagen’s name was created with support of his family and colleagues. When Haga expressed his disappointment on social media that the fund had been depleted, his old teammates at the Tribune stepped in.

“It struck me, because I do this internal book sale every year and we raise money for various nonprofits selling these unused review books,” said Tribune Books editor Laurie Hertzel. “So I wrote back to him and said, this is terrible. This might be a good option for our next book sale.”

The staff dug deep, and when the sale was through, $3,800 had been raised for the scholarship fund.

“That’s actually quite a bit for this sale, so I think a few people gave a bit more than they were expected to,” Hertzel said.

With additional support from other donors, Haga expects the total to climb to as much as $5,000, which means $500 can be offered to a student for several years. He hopes to help present the scholarship at the Communication Program awards banquet in April.

“It will give me the chance to remember Bob, keep his name alive, underscore the importance of bringing skill and integrity and honesty to the profession of journalism, and to remind people of someone who acted on those terms.”

Support for journalism

The Robert J. Hagen Memorial Scholarship is just one of more than 20 offered by the Communication Program. In the 2015-16 academic year, $25,520 was awarded to communication students, generated from endowments totaling about $710,000. It’s one of the largest scholarship pools within the College of Arts and Sciences.

“Our alumni have shown truly generous support for the Communication Program by creating so many high-value scholarships for our undergraduate students,” said Program Chair Timothy Pasch. “It’s our responsibility to the donors to match these awards to our deserving students. We have even created student-run PR campaigns reaching out to our students just to encourage them to apply.”

Tim Pasch

UND Communication Program Chair Timothy Pasch

The Communication Program has been working the past several years toward some major goals: attaining department status, growing its Ph.D. program in international/intercultural communication, and honing the program’s tracks to two areas: strategic communication and digital journalism.

Pasch says the transition from program to department is nearly complete, and he has assembled a subcommittee in journalism to further refine the curriculum to meet current industry needs.

“We want to bring digital journalism to the next century,” Pasch said. “Students will be working with coding, they’ll be working in immersive storytelling with digital technologies in our labs, and they’ll be working on collaborations with computer science, languages, international programs and other units on campus. We want them to be able to make their work clearly relevant for a new generation of readers.”

Overcoming worries

Haga worries that students are deterred from careers in journalism because of income worries, job security threats and a growing public disdain for what has become collectively known as “The Media.” But with the combination of generous scholarship support, the stability of departmental status and a new, future-focused course structure, the Communication Program is paving a path for those who want to report the news in the digital world.

“We need good, solid, trained professionals who have the skills and the ethics to perform as journalists in a way that people can trust and respect and use,” Haga said. “We have to find a way to keep that viable.”