Ben Bagdikian, reporter and former campus Graduate School of Journalism dean, dies at 96

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Ben Bagdikian, a respected journalist and former dean of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, died Friday at his home in Berkeley. He was 96.

Bagdikian took on many roles throughout his lifetime, pursuing careers as an author, journalist, media critic, professor, dean and an inquisitive thinker of injustices.

His most renowned book — “The Media Monopoly,” published in 1997 — was a “signature contribution to the public understanding about media” and warned against the dangers and threat imposed by media consolidation of news, said Edward Wasserman, current dean of the campus Graduate School of Journalism.

Lowell Bergman, campus graduate journalism professor, described Bagdikian as a journalist who was “smart and courageous” and a man of his word.

Bagdikian played a significant role in the the disclosure of the Pentagon Papers. According to Leon Dash, a journalism professor at the University of Illinois who helped Bagdikian report on rehabilitation for “The Shame of Prisons” — published in 1972 — Bagdikian had to buy extra plane tickets to keep the documents next to him as he flew back from Boston after picking up the files from Daniel Ellsberg, consultant to the U.S. Department of Defense.

He was a “very gentle person but (also) a very determined journalist in terms of looking at taking the issues of all kind in American society,” Dash said.

As dean of the campus Graduate School of Journalism from 1985-88, Bagdikian’s presence gave the school a “certain level of credibility that journalism schools often don’t get,” Bergman noted.

“Ben led an exemplary career. He was an outstanding editor, an outstanding reporter, an outstanding critic and a wonderful teacher,” said Tom Goldstein, campus professor of journalism and media studies who succeeded Bagdikian as dean in 1988, in an email. “It is rare to find someone who has excelled in all these areas.”

Bagdikian was also known for fighting social injustices and committing deeply to investigative reporting. He exposed inhuman prison conditions by going undercover as an inmate in a Pennsylvania prison. Kate Harloe, Bagdikian’s grand-niece and a graduate journalism student, most admired Bagdikian’s dedication to fighting injustices as a critical journalist and observer of the world. She also highlighted the funny and clever side of Bagdikian, as many of his stories ended with funny punchlines.

As a journalism professor from 1976-90, Bagdikian taught courses such as Introduction to Journalism and Ethics in Journalism. According to his former student Toby McLeod, Bagdikian was able to see the potential in his students and encouraged them to develop into the wonderful journalists of today.

“In terms of journalism, he was the best role model I ever had,” said Ted Robbins, a former student of Bagdikian. “He was a touchstone for me.”

Several of Bagdikian’s students, including Robbins, remembered how he once told students that “there’s a theory that a lot of journalists are introverts who have to learn to be extroverts” and that “to this day, every time I knock on a stranger’s door, I hope nobody’s home.”

Bagdikian had a boundless curiosity that made him a respected journalist and professor, according to his former student, Jessica Abbe.

“Even with the creeping disabilities of advanced age, his curiosity never dimmed, and his conversations never stalled,” Abbe said.

 

Contact Roann Pao at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @roann_pao”.