The University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication’s (SOJC) interim director of the George S. Turnbull Portland Center and Agora Journalism Center Mike Fancher turns the page on a long and distinguished career in journalism, as he says goodbye to the SOJC and prepares for retirement.
Fancher has led a generation of innovative thought-leaders by directing the conversation around civic engagement and the future of journalism in his role as interim director.
A proud Oregon Duck alumnus, Fancher was the editor of the Daily Emerald his senior year of college, and went on to work for the Seattle Times for 30 years. He served as the newspaper’s executive editor for 20 years. The paper won four Pulitzer Prizes and had 13 finalists for journalism’s most prestigious honor under his leadership.
“I have always had this deep appreciation that almost everything I achieved started right here at this University—at this journalism school,” says Fancher. “The quality of people on the faculty, the quality of students, and the level of engagement that they have with each other—this is a place where people really care for one another.”
Fancher’s return to the SOJC began with the launch of the Agora Journalism Center, the gathering place for innovation in communications and civic engagement.
“We saw an opportunity for our center to think more disruptively in the digital, interactive sense,” Fancher explains. “The idea was to try a lot of things, bring a lot of people into the conversation, see what sets off sparks, and see what people are really excited about.”
“One of the first things we did was search for a chair of innovation. We lucked out— Andrew DeVigal happened to be in the right place at the right time for us,” says Fancher. “We hired Andrew who is an innovation genius, and I just can’t say enough about him.”
The determination to construct a center committed to helping journalists find new ways to enhance public knowledge and civic life led Fancher and his colleagues to set out and bring people together to pursue new possibilities.
“The spirit of the center has always been to leverage the work that is being done in this school,” Fancher says. “Part of the role of the center is to try and catalyze that to do more collaborative work, and to spark ideas across disciplines within the school, the university, and the broader community.”
Along the way, Fancher was asked to become the interim director of the George S. Turnbull Portland Center, continuing his mentorship of the next generation of innovators.
“It’s been better than anything I ever could have imagined for this moment in my life,” he explains. “It’s my capstone, if you will. It’s a great way to end what has been a wonderful career in journalism.”
Fancher says that he thinks it is time to finally retire, as “there will never be anything better than this.” He will continue to develop his ideas in terms of mentoring and writing, as well as take time to travel with his wife.
Fancher’s impact on this school and the field of journalism will continue to be present long after he leaves the SOJC.
“There are people in journalism who I feel I touched along the way who have learned something that they are now teaching others,” he says. “That probably is more important and a greater testament then anything else.”
“Mike Fancher is one of the shining stars of the universe,” says interim Edwin L. Artzt Dean Julianne Newton. “They called him ‘The Zen Master’ at the Seattle Times. I didn’t really understand that until I got to know him as the leader of the Turnbull Center and the Agora Journalism Center. The wisdom that he has shared with this school is priceless.”
“He is extraordinarily courageous and visionary,” Newton continues. “He has a sense of the history of this school and the history of journalism at a level that few people achieve. I will always be grateful to Mike for the work he has done for this school.”
Story by Katie MacLean ‘15