Common Ground: Hall of Fame to induct Jay Perkins

There is always at least one educator in a person’s life who makes an impact on who we become and on what path we choose to take.

LSU is celebrating 100 years of journalism this week and honoring one of the people who helped launch countless careers, including my own, in the communications field.

Journalism professor Jay Perkins taught at LSU for three decades until he retired in 2010. On Thursday, Perkins will be among three inductees into the Manship School of Mass Communication’s Hall of Fame.

For many of my journalism colleagues, “Jay” or “Mr. Perkins” as we called him, was our idol and our role model. While his leadership resulted in the news editorial department earning major national recognition, his rapport with his students was even more extraordinary.

LSU alumnus Al Comeaux, a 1987 journalism graduate, wrote it best in a recent email: “Jay was so important to many of us. He helped launch our careers, and he has been there for us through the years.”

Perkins’ body of work, his honesty and his stellar journalism career commanded our attention. In his classroom lectures, he tied in his experiences as a reporter, editor and political analyst covering Capitol Hill, the White House and political campaigns for the Associated Press with his coursework, teaching us to become hard-nosed news gatherers.

“Look for the truth,” Perkins reminded us. “Get all sides of the story” he said in another breath. And his most memorable one-liner: good writing is “a lot like making love.”

Alumni still appreciate his teaching approach.

“Jay gave us a lot of his time and beat the crap out of us because he believed in us and got us to make something of ourselves,” Comeaux said.

True. There were no free rides in Perkins’ classes.

In his investigative reporting class, he assigned students to interview major state politicians and to dig through court records and other public database files. It was grueling and sometimes boring, but it prepared us to work to find facts and to not be intimidated about asking tough questions.

I remember sitting with then-state Insurance Commissioner Jim Brown, nervously asking him questions from my prepared list and feeling a profound sense of accomplishment.

Perkins also helped students find internships. He notified several of his students, including me, about a summer internship opening in Houma in 1990.

None of us drove, so Perkins carried us on a two-hour-long drive through two-lane country roads for an interview and lunch with the Houma Courier’s then-executive editor Kathy Silverberg.

I landed the job and felt forever thankful that Perkins took the time to make it his business to see to it that his students were given opportunities to be hired.

That’s not all.

Perkins also was instrumental in helping black students create the first LSU student chapter of the Association of Black Journalists in the early 1990s. As our adviser, Perkins helped us stage journalism and resumé workshops, and he sent many of us to national journalism job fairs.

Congratulations, Mr. Perkins, for being our friend, teacher and our greatest cheerleader. You are appreciated more than words can convey.

To contribute to the Jay Perkins scholarship, visit lsufoundation.org.

Chante Dionne Warren is a freelance writer. She can be reached at chantewriter @hotmail.com