UW-Eau Claire journalism professor Jack Kapfer, who is a 1982 Blugold graduate, has been teaching waves of aspiring journalists since 2003.
Initially majoring in history during his freshman year, his studies took a slight detour after Kapfer took a radio production class, reaffirming his personal interest in broadcast news that would eventually lead to a career in journalism.
“During my time as a student at UW-Eau Claire, the communication and journalism department was two separate departments," Kapfer says. "Journalism was in Hibbard, and communication and speech were in Haas Fine Arts. I just started taking classes as a speech major because I wanted to be in broadcasting. So, I was a double major in speech and history, and then I got to my final year and decided I didn’t want to graduate. So I took journalism as a minor and stayed another year in college to keep doing what I loved.”
Kapfer, who teaches several communication and journalism courses, including a variety of broadcast classes, says radio and television may fall under the same umbrella as journalism, but they’re unique in their own ways.
“The difference between radio and television is that television is exciting, but radio is just fun," Kapfer says. "You can do a lot of fun things with radio, and it kind of puts the responsibility on the listener. As a listener, you have to imagine what is being said to you as far as information or descriptions or sound effects — you have to see that in your mind.
“Television is exciting. Television can take you there, and I think that its primary gift is that it can take its audience to where it’s happening. 9/11 was a perfect example of that. And, I tell this in my classes, to the credit of the broadcasters — the news people — during 9/11, they just let the pictures and videos tell the tragedy. That’s what makes television what it is. You can take your audience where you are. You can show them what’s happening and give them immediate understanding of the circumstances.”
In Kapfer’s advanced journalism course, students put together a 20-minute newscast for “Update News,” a recorded show that contains factual news stories created by students in the course. The experiential learning opportunity allows them to take part in key roles that are necessary to running a newscast, including being a reporter, anchor, producer, audio controller and director of the show.
“It gives them some anchoring and production experience, as well as experience corralling a newscast as it is on air," Kapfer says. "Everyone in the class goes through each role in the newscast to gain experience in the event that they want to go on and make a career out of broadcast journalism or television news.”
Outside of the classroom, Kapfer is a faculty advisor for Blugold Radio Sunday, a three- to four-hour, student-generated radio program about student life that airs on WUEC, 89.7 FM.
Though Kapfer’s love for radio and television news runs deep, he says the culture and climate surrounding journalism has changed drastically.
“With all of the complaints about fake news, this is a time when journalism is more important than ever, and I think journalists, particularly print journalists, have done an outstanding job," Kapfer says. "There is a significant danger nowadays for journalists. It used to be that you could report in the open, and everyone used to want to be in front of the camera. Now, if someone does that, you have to be careful that they don’t have a weapon on them.”
The journalism professor also notes news is consumed differently among different generations.
“It’s changed who we are as a society. It’s also changed our generations. My generation is more of ‘reading the newspaper and look for credible news sources.' Younger generations are much more visual. Everything they get is visual, whether it’s on television or their phones.”
Because there are different concentrations of news areas that journalists can pursue, Kapfer wants to instill the key fundamentals of journalism in future professionals before they step into the field.
“I want students to understand what a really good way is to do journalism," Kapfer says. "There are a lot of different ways to do broadcasting. Some do it to entertain people and make a lot of money. Others do it to help people be informed, and that’s my goal — to teach young people how to inform an audience, what you need to be aware of, your purpose and focus. That, to me, is what a true medium should be about. Your primary focus should be to give people information that they can use.”