The J-School’s news handyman
John Broholm taught just about every news course during his career and focused on the importance of good writing
Summer 2019 Edition
Early in Associate Professor John Broholm’s career, becoming a professor wasn’t necessarily on his radar. As a news producer in broadcast television, one day he came to the realization that he was spending a lot of time teaching his staff to write better stories.
“I was hiring producers and writers,” Broholm said, “and the writing was driving me mashoogy.”
That moment set in motion a 35-year career of teaching journalism at the William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communications, which came to a close in May when Broholm retired at the end of the spring semester.
His interest in journalism started early in high school with stints as co-editor and editor of his school paper and an internship at a television station in St. Louis.
“Essentially it was a month of a high school internship at the NBC station, which planted a seed that wouldn’t go away,” Broholm said.
He was accepted to Stanford and got involved in radio working at KZSU, which had a high profile on campus because it covered the demonstrations “and occasionally riots” against the Vietnam War, he said.
“We were in the thick of things from a community-needed-to-know-this perspective, and that kind of stayed with me,” Broholm said. “I wasn’t a newsperson per se. I wasn’t doing the newscasts, I wasn’t following the Palo Alto City Council or anything like that, but that stayed with me.”
After graduating in 1973 with a bachelor’s degree in communications, broadcast and film, he moved to Denver and managed record stores and worked at the Denver University radio station doing a weekly blues program. But the itch to cover the news wouldn’t go away, and he started graduate school in 1978 at the University of Missouri. One instructor who had a great influence on Broholm was Professor Dave Dugan, “a powerful force of personality” who had worked with news legend Walter Cronkite.
“He instilled a sense of purpose and professionalism that I really needed badly,” Broholm said.
After two years of honing his craft in TV news and earning his master’s degree at the University of Missouri, Broholm worked as a news producer at TV stations in Dayton, Ohio, Salt Lake City, Utah, and Denver, Colorado.
It always was in the back of his mind that since he had a master’s degree he could teach, and ultimately his desire to create better writers led him to switch careers. One of his former instructors at Missouri, Max Utsler, took a job at the J-School at KU, and the school was looking to hire another instructor to teach broadcast news classes.
“Teaching writing was harder than doing the newscast,” Broholm said, “and what was appealing here was well, let’s give this a shot and maybe I’ll learn something about teaching writing.”
Broholm taught broadcast news classes and was encouraged to earn his doctorate by the guy who hired him, Dean Del Brinkman. Even though he said that was the furthest thing from his mind at the time, Brinkman helped make it happen and by arranging his schedule so he could continue to teach.
“If all administrators were that good, things would run a lot better,” Broholm said.“That was Del. He was just one of those people that things worked, things happened.”
Broholm became the “handyman” of the news courses, teaching writing, editing and ethics. He also had a stint as the school’s graduate director. Through all of that, he focused on what made him want to teach in the first place.
“What I’m proudest of is my continued focus on teaching writing, which is difficult and it’s also a hell of a lot of work, a lot of grind,” Broholm said. “And that I’ve been adaptable to different media on that.”
One of Broholm’s former students, Tami Hale Frymark (c’93), who is a senior producer for the “Dr. Phil” show, said Broholm taught her “the art of storytelling well beyond the lead and the sound bite.”
• B.A., communications, broadcast and film, Stanford University
• M.A., journalism, University of Missouri
• Ph.D., education, University of Kansas
• H.O.P.E. Award finalist, 2000
• School of Journalism awards for instructional innovation, 1991, 1990
“Over nearly 30 years, my career has been exciting and rewarding,” Frymark said. “From producing newscasts in markets small and large, to producing stories that have taken me around the world, and finally producing a departure from news and into daytime talk – John’s instruction, guidance and passion for story has served as my indestructible foundation.”
Taiju Takahashi (j’91), news director at WJTV News in Jackson, Mississippi, called Broholm “a true mentor” who even after students graduated would take the time to respond if students needed advice.
“Dr. Broholm has a unique way of relating to students,” Takahashi said. “He has a quirky sense of humor; he’s not overbearing or condescending. He did everything he could to make sure you succeeded in class and in the real world as well.”
Broholm attributes his success to his own mentors, including Professor Roger Gafke, who was “pretty damned uncompromising” in terms of quality in teaching TV news classes at the University of Missouri, and Utsler, with whom he was a co-instructor his first semester at the J-School.
“We don’t teach alike, we really don’t,” Broholm said of Utsler, “but his approach has always been an influence on me.”
Broholm hoped that he instilled on his students the importance of working hard on accuracy and relevancy of information because it’s very easy to get things wrong. He also said he tried to challenge his students, and based on their careers, he’s been successful.
“What’s inspired me most is the degree that students I’ve had have gone on to do amazingly much more than I ever did,” he said.
– Julie Adam