The first class I ever took in college was Media Law and the professor was my advisor, Dr. Russell Jandoli. He was one of the reasons I went to St. Bonaventure. This seasoned journalist had worked with everyone in the business and did his time with Stars and Stripes. He introduced me to the work of Ernie Pyle, and spent several hours with me in the basement of the library talking to Fr. Ireneaus Hirscher, who had known Thomas Merton, and we talked a long time, the three of us. On the way back to his office his simple comments about what to listen to and what I clearly wasn’t paying attention to helped me through all the writing courses at the college.
Dr. Jandoli would have been 100 years old Thursday. He seemed older than his years even four decades ago, yet had a laid back way about him that indicated he could handle, and probably had already handled, anything and anyone. He was a gentle man; a pure soul who was straight out of central casting for old time journalists. The first class on my first day in college, Dr. Jandoli walked in, called roll, and said quietly, “There’s no such thing as objectivity. It doesn’t exist,” and walked out. We sat quietly for a few moments until one student walked to the window and looked out and saw the professor walking away. “He’s gone!” he said, and we all walked back to our dorm rooms.
He caught my attention.
The following class he told us he didn’t want that information—essential for journalists—to get lost among all the other information we had no intention of remembering or caring about.
A few years later he was very sick in the hospital. When I visited, he told me that teachers talk too much. “We have two hour classes for one hour of information,” he said. “No wonder everyone stops listening.” He believed writing did the same thing. “Too many words. Your essays need to thin out as you rewrite. Leave some words behind as you go.” It was like sitting on a hillside with some prophet—his legs crossed, a long beard, the strength of ages in his straight and sturdy back. Instead, Dr Jandoli’s fragile frame lay eroded and weak in a hospital bed. We talked about things I was writing and then we sat quietly for a few moments before his wife would come and chase me out. Then he laughed and said, “Mr. Kunzinger—leave death for the poets.” His skin was transparent, and his once keen eyes that stared at ages of students from behind thick black glasses sunk subjectively into darkness.
He recovered from that stay, of course, returning stronger and then retiring. Just a dozen or so years later he wrote me a beautiful letter when a colleague of his and a friend and mentor of mine, Professor Pete Barrecchia, died. It was a beautiful letter, precise and deep. Those two were the journalists who set the pace, established the essential integrity necessary for the Fourth Estate to exist at all. And as a teacher he was the type who quietly demanded attention when he talked. He was the professor who we didn’t take advantage of simply because we couldn’t live with disappointing him.
Every time I write an editorial for the paper or a piece for a journal or magazine, I think of him, can see his deep, humble, and cunning smile. I think I moved away from journalism and toward personal narrative because I understood too well how difficult it can be to remain objective. It was rare then, and today nearly non-existent.
Happy Birthday Russ. Your influence is still present, and more necessary now than ever before.