After 50-plus years at Central Michigan University, Jim Wojcik's commitment to his own three Rs — reporting, responsibility and relationships — has led to a once-in-a-lifetime honor.
Wojcik — who directed CMU student media from 1972-2001, helped start the CMU Sports Network on radio and now is an instructor and internship coordinator in the journalism department — will be inducted April 15 into the Michigan Journalism Hall of Fame.
But to decades' worth of CMU journalism graduates, he'll always be "Woj," the mentor who laid down the fundamentals of their craft and whose networking has advanced their careers throughout Michigan and beyond.
"I sometimes say that Jim was LinkedIn for CMU grads well before LinkedIn existed," said 1975 journalism alum Lorrie Lynch, features content director of AARP Media.
All about relationships
"If I had to sum up my whole career in one word," Wojcik said, "it's really simple: It's relationships."
First, there's his web of connections with communications professionals far and wide, with trust built over years of recommending interns and job candidates. Second, there are the relationships with his own supervisors and mentors through the years — people who lived out the value of empowerment.
"They listened to my ideas, whether good or bad, and gave me the latitude: 'OK, if you think it'll work, try it,'" he said. "I didn't like failing, but I wasn't afraid to fail because I knew I had support."
But the most important relationships — the ones that keep him on the job today, well past his official retirement in 2001 — are with the students he teaches and counsels.
"I don't want you to fail in your first job. I want you to make your mistakes here." — Jim Wojcik, Michigan Journalism Hall of Fame inductee
It's a relationship grounded in tough love, or maybe gruff love, as Wojcik makes sure his students appreciate the responsibility and accountability that come with empowerment.
That includes the freedom for them to make mistakes "and get back up with bruises on their knees."
"I don't want you to fail in your first job," he said. "I want you to make your mistakes here."
Reporting and responsibility
For someone who has spent many more years teaching and advising than newswriting, Wojcik nonetheless calls reporting one of his core strengths. For him to effectively advise Central Michigan Life and other student publications, it had to be.
While taking a back seat to the student journalists making news decisions, "I could be their negative foil" asking the tough questions, he said.
"He taught us how to be tougher reporters, better editors and effective managers by letting us practice our classroom-learned skills in the newsroom," said 1975 CMU journalism alum Rick Fitzgerald, now assistant vice president of communications and public affairs at the University of Michigan. "He never told us what to do or what not to do. He asked a lot of questions and made us think about the consequences of what we were writing."
He also had their back, defending the watchdog role of CM Life and creating with then-President Leonard Plachta a Student Media Board of Directors to protect its editorial independence.
Wayne Kamidoi, 1987 journalism alum and an art director of The New York Times, calls his time at CM Life the toughest job he ever had.
"Jim expected top-notch journalism," Kamidoi said, "and we hoped to deliver through hard work and respect for the craft. Trickle-down advice from senior editors to know-it-all underclassmen: Do things 'The Woj's Way,' which meant no cutting corners."
Changes and challenges
Wojcik says he has been "fortunate to encounter students who wanted to learn and had a passion for old-school journalism." The proof, he said, is in their success after graduation, whether in news organizations or public relations, which he now teaches.
He said CMU-trained journalists' fact-finding, reporting and editing abilities are in demand in communications roles beyond traditional news, while CMU integrative public relations students and graduates are building the experience, media skills and ethical grounding to excel in the rapidly evolving communications field.
The first wave of that evolution is what led Wojcik to the classroom. As student publications entered the digital age, he felt it was time for new blood in the advisor's office, but he didn't want to give up his interaction with students. When faculty departures opened up teaching slots at the same time he had decided to retire, Wojcik saw opportunity.
"I got no bureaucracy, and I still got the students," he said.
Didn't see it coming
For someone who has seen it all, Wojcik admits the Hall of Fame induction blindsided him.
"This was so unexpected, I still walk around in a state of shock," he said. When he looked up who else was in the hall — his own mentors like Louis Berman, Richard Milliman and Gilbert Maienknecht (founder of CMU's journalism department) alongside other well-known and respected figures like Helen Thomas, Hugh McDiarmid, Betty DeRamus, Ron Dzwonkowski, Charlie and Stephen Cain, Neal Shine and George Weeks — "I didn't know what to say."
He also doesn't know what to say when asked about his future career plans, except that he has three criteria for considering retirement: "God's going to tell me it's not good for my health, the university's going to tell me they don't need my services, or students are going to say I'm not making an impact on them."
He's set those conditions for 10 years now, and no one's invoked one yet.
Other 2018 Michigan Journalism Hall of Fame inductees are freelance writer and former Detroit Free Press columnist Susan Ager, automotive journalist John McElroy, and WDET-FM news director and host Jerome Vaughn.
CMU alumni or faculty already in the Michigan hall include Betsy Rau and the late William Serrin, Jim Hough and Maienknecht.
In 2003, Wojcik received a faculty distinguished service award and was inducted into the CMU Journalism Hall of Fame. He also was instrumental in working with the Hon. Fred Mester, a former Oakland County circuit judge, to help create the journalism Lem Tucker Scholarship in the College of Communication and Fine Arts and was named 2002 Citizen of the Year by the Mount Pleasant Area Chamber of Commerce.
The April 15 event starts with a 5 p.m. reception at the Kellogg Hotel and Conference Center at Michigan State University, followed by the dinner and the induction ceremony.