From USF to Poynter president

Since she was a young girl, words were an important part of Karen Brown Dunlap’s life. She dazzled her seventh-grade teacher with her brilliance in a word game, causing her teacher to remark, “You are going to be a journalist.” Former USF professor Dunlap said that her seventh-grade teacher put into words what she had always wanted to do.

“I wanted to be a journalist, and I believed that I could change the world,” she said.Dunlap has not stopped trying to change the world. She was an assistant professor at USF for over 17 years, until 2003 when she was appointed as president of The Poynter Institute, a school that teaches — or “coaches,” as Dunlap said — aspiring journalists, professional journalists and professors of journalism. She taught at Tennessee State University for 10 years and earned her doctorate from the University of Tennessee.

She is co-author of The Effective Editor with Foster Davis and The Editorial Eye with Jane Harrigan.

Dunlap has been on the jurist panel twice for the Pulitzer Prize. She was also an editor and reporter for various newspapers throughout the country.

“It was not that hard for me,” she said, referring to being a young minority journalist in the ’70s, when most blacks were mainly made to cover black community beats.

Dunlap said that editors are a lot different now then they were when she was younger.

“The typical old editor would curse you out if you made a mistake,” she said, recalling the time when her editor called her to the middle of the newsroom and strongly reprimanded her because she confused the spelling of the words sight and site.

“If you are going to be a journalist then you need to know how to spell,” she said, laughing as she noted that she no longer confuses the words.

During high school, Dunlap received a scholarship from the Delta Sigma Theta sorority to go to college. She attended Michigan State during an era when the school could shut down on any day because students were protesting the Vietnam War.

Dunlap said she grew up with people who wanted to go into journalism because they thought that they could write something that could make a difference. The tone of her mellow voice quivered with excitement as she recalled all the controversial stories that she and others wrote about the Civil Rights movement in the local paper behind their editor’s back.

“I was smart back then,” she said. Dunlap took above-average course loads and maintained a high GPA. “I finished college in two and a half years. I got married a week after I graduated. I thought I would be a foreign correspondent, have 10 children and live on a farm.” She said that her dream was ridiculous and that is why it never happened.

The two people Dunlap most admires are her deceased parents. Both of them earned master’s degrees and told their two daughters that they were going to college. Dunlap is currently married with four children and grandchildren she often calls the “j” in her joy.