New Journalism Chair Kathy Roberts Forde finds home at UMass

By Eleanor Harte

(Courtesy of Brian McDermott)
(Courtesy of Brian McDermott)

It’s the first day of classes of the fall semester, and Kathy Roberts Forde is introducing herself to excited journalism students in the department’s new home in the Integrative Learning Center.

“The faculty here and the students are so impressive,” Forde said, expressing her enthusiasm for her new position as Journalism Chair at the University of Massachusetts, which she began in August.
Most recently, Forde was a professor of journalism history and literary journalism at the University of South Carolina, and before that, at the University of Minnesota. When asked about her geographical background, she laughed.

“I am from the South for sure and anyone who spends any time with me is going to hear it, not only in my voice but also word choice,” said Forde, who grew up in small town in east Tennessee and Huntsville, Alabama, but has also lived in North Carolina.

Forde cited both her career and family life as reasons for the move to Massachusetts. But she’s most excited about the opportunity to lead a journalism program that – with a new building, new facilities and new professors – is seemingly on the rise.

“It’s a great career opportunity for me to be in a department that focuses entirely on journalism, which is at the very center of what I do,” Forde said. “It is so attractive to me to be in that kind of concentrated effort of people all doing the same thing.”

So far, Forde is very pleased with how things are going.

“We’re going to increase our digital media courses and our offerings to students,” she said, adding that she would love to explore the idea of beginning a Society of Professional Journalists chapter at the University.

Forde said she’s also looking forward to the opportunity to expand the department, a process she said will involve the students and the faculty equally. She cited the broadcast department, digital media courses and the sports journalism concentration as areas where she hopes the department will grow.
And with the new Integrative Learning Center open to all, Forde wishes to see more activity from the students.

“My hope and greatest desire is that journalism students feel comfortable here, that they want to be here in this common area, that they’re still going to come in and out of faculty offices just as they did in Bartlett,” she said. “We want this to be just as much of a community as it was in Bartlett.”
Forde has also found a home outside of UMass, exploring the Pioneer Valley. She said one of her favorite things about western Massachusetts is all the opportunities in the area for running and biking. And then there’s also the Montague Bookmill in Greenfield, which she highly recommends, because she describes herself as an avid bookworm.

“In the past year or so I’ve become absolutely addicted to Audible,” Forde said. “I listen to books while I’m running, while I’m grocery shopping, while I’m in the car, while I have insomnia in the middle of the night. … I consume audiobooks rapidly.”

At the moment she’s been reading about the protests in Ferguson, Missouri.

“The media has a long history of being silent about exposing issues of racial inequality and injustice,” Forde said. “That’s a topic that I study and talk about and teach.”

In fact, it’s related to the subject of her next book, which she is in the middle of writing. It’s a subject she’s passionate about, and she believes UMass is a great place to be working on it.

“People at UMass are deeply concerned about the role of journalism in public life. They think of journalism as a public good. People are deeply striving here, and that is so attractive to me,” Forde said.

But Forde’s primary focus is expanding the journalism department in all the right areas, something she believes it is poised to do.

“My goal is to make sure we keep the forward momentum going,” she said. “That we grow in the right direction.”

Eleanor Harte can be reached at [email protected]