Monday, November 26, 2007

"John Hewitt's pupils do pretty well.."

Twenty five years ago, this was the tag line of a news package reported and written by Mike Hegedus, a reporter for the CBS station in San Francisco, KPIX. Mike is now a feature reporter for CNBC. Back then, while still reporting feature news for KPIX, he reported a story about a college professor working at San Francisco State University in the Broadcast Communication Arts Department (at least that’s what it was called back then.), an extraordinary man teaching broadcast journalism. Hegedus’ report went behind the scenes of our college campus television station, interviewing the professor, observing his students in action at school and around San Francisco as they worked “in the business” in paid positions and in internships. Many of these students are well known television and radio producers, writers, editors, anchors and reporters today, and so the tag line goes…

I am not sure if we fully appreciated back then, the impact Professor John Hewitt would have on our lives both professionally and personally. What endeared him to us was his candor, humor and honesty. John Hewitt was one of those professors in college you never forget. I never saw him particularly angry; except for the time I put together a package on Pier 39 that could have been a movie of the week in three parts. He was patiently serious about television news, about how carefully crafted it was written, its’ accuracy and relevance. In the midst of the seriousness, he was able to laugh with us and at us. He was the sculptor and criticism of technique and none of us wanted to miss his class. It’s the course where we put in more hours than was required. It was the class where we shot stories on huge cameras we lugged on our shoulders, with microphones bigger than our hands, hopefully covered with windscreens that looked like koosh balls. Our tapes were ¾’’Beta and the editing decks were these huge monstrosities that you had to reserve time to work on. When we checked out equipment from the “cage”, we signed our lives away and all our cords had to be coiled a certain way “or else!” It wasn’t just the cameras we checked out. With that, we needed to lug light kits and batteries. Yeah, I learned how to coil cords at State. When we were at State, the studio cameras were still black and white and sat on these huge ‘Ed Sullivan Theater’ pedestals. Lord, in today’s digital world, it seems downright ancient.

A graduate of U.S.F and Columbia University, Professor Hewitt taught for over 30 years at San Francisco State University, scattering his students far and wide into television markets all over the world. He's authored several books, is a television journalist, documentary writer/producer and Emmy award winner. One can say that on a professional level, he prepared his students for the hype and insanity of little garage news operations to major market newsrooms, but I’d like to think that he taught us to look at the world objectively with fresh eyes, both for what was newsworthy and hard hitting, versus what was sensational and sheer fluff. His experience wasn’t something he kept to himself; he shared it greatly and generously.

John and his wife Annette put on an annual Christmas party at his home in Marin County for his students; a tradition that started not long before my class graduated in 1985. Going back to John’s house the year after I graduated was like going home to see old friends, and it was at that party that I met J.D. 22 years ago. We were married almost three years later and his presence at our wedding was important to us. I have no idea how many of his students married and started families, but I know of two from the classes of 85 and 86, including ours. He was a professor who was a mentor and vicariously a part-time yenta, only because we spent so much time together.

We haven’t seen John or Annette since our wedding and we recently received word that he is now retiring, officially. A part of me is sad to hear this news, since he is really an icon of what is now known as the BECA (Broadcast Electronic Communication Arts) department at SFSU. We are grateful that we will be able to be part of this celebration, one in which a man’s legacy in education, his professional and personal impact on a small group of kids spans over three decades. Our good friends from college were all his students; people we still love to keep in touch with after 20+ years. Wishing him well as he retires and thanking him for all he has done for us will be an honor for those of us who were his students. His courses, although spanning only a few semesters for us, was such an integral part of sending us out into the world, and as the old Hegedus addage goes, “John Hewitt’s pupils do pretty well.”

Tammy Maher is a resident of El Dorado Hills and biweekly columnist for the Mountain Democrat. You can reach her by email at or on the web at

1 comment:

tom mcgowan said...