The University of Minnesota recognizes the Hubbard family's impact on media by renaming SJMC.
By Erin Peterson
For a national media empire, Hubbard Broadcasting had surprisingly modest beginnings. In the early 1920s, a 26-year-old named Stanley E. Hubbard launched a tiny Twin Cities radio station with little more than hustle and grit. The live-music station, WAMD, was short for “Where All Minneapolis Dances.”
That small seed grew into a media giant. The Hubbards have been making ground-breaking advances in media and journalism for nearly a century: Stanley E. Hubbard developed the first-ever advertising-supported radio station.
Decades later, his son, Stanley S. Hubbard, anticipated and ultimately developed major opportunities in satellite newsgathering. Today, Hubbard family members run portions of Hubbard Broadcasting, which encompasses dozens of radio and television stations, along with other ventures, including the cable network Reelz.
At the same time, the Hubbards’ significant and consistent philanthropy—including to the University of Minnesota—has shown that they have never forgotten their roots. The family has supported an enormous range of University of Minnesota students, faculty and projects.
Because of these achievements and philanthropic efforts, the Hubbard family was nominated for an honorary naming, to be considered by the University of Minnesota’s Senate All-University Honors Committee. The nomination process took about six months before the committee, comprising faculty, non-faculty, alumni and students, voted to accept the nomination (see sidebar). On March 23, 2017, the University of Minnesota Board of Regents voted to rename the School of Journalism and Mass Communication the Hubbard School of Journalism and Mass Communication. The change went into effect on July 1, 2017. The name change will not affect the building, which remains Murphy Hall, after William J. Murphy, former publisher of the Minneapolis Tribune (now the Star Tribune).
University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler said the new name makes perfect sense. “Hubbard is a name that’s synonymous with media innovation, creative risk and service,” he said at the School’s annual Spring Showcase event on April 18, 2017, when the name change was announced. “[These characteristics] are also hallmarks of the University of Minnesota, as well as the core values we hope to instill in students embarking on careers in journalism and mass communication.”
Stanley S. Hubbard, chairman and CEO of Hubbard Broadcasting, said the naming recognition is humbling. In a statement, he said, “This recognition, provided by one of America’s great schools of journalism, honors the memory of Stanley E. Hubbard in a way that will make all who have been involved from ‘day one’ at KSTP-TV, and all of Hubbard Broadcasting, with local news production, forever appreciative.”
There’s no question that it’s a big change, but it’s also been decades in the making. Here’s a look at what the Hubbards have meant to media and journalism—and what they’ve meant to the University of Minnesota.
Big Risks and World-Changing Impact
It’s true that the Hubbards have been a cornerstone of the Twin Cities media world for 94 years, but what may be most impressive about their work is not simply their longevity, but their constant willingness to embrace technology. The eldest Hubbard worked tirelessly to expand his local radio empire from that early, scrappy station. He invested heavily—despite skepticism—in investigative reporting. Stanley S. Hubbard recalled, for example, that while he was still in high school in the 1950s, he joined his father to report on a series of fatal Northwest Orient Airlines crashes. The elder Hubbard thought he saw something peculiar and called in a mechanic, who diagnosed cracks on the wing spars. The stories that resulted ultimately led the company to develop safer planes.
At KSTP-TV today, the Hubbards and newsroom leaders are just as committed to investigative reporting. “A news organization’s commitment to investigative journalism boils down to holding those in power accountable and providing a public service,” said Paul McEnroe, KSTP executive producer of investigations, former Star Tribune Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and past faculty member of the School. “You can go shallow, run a skeleton staff and offer up noise that pretends to be news—because it’s cheaper—or you can invest to go deep with smart people and uncover facts otherwise withheld from the public by the powers that be. At a time when there is a lot of noise along the bandwidth and a lot of rhetoric printed as truth, KSTP has decided that its viewers and web readers deserve something not otherwise being offered consistently: hard-hitting, investigative and in-depth stories.”
The current Hubbard patriarch, Stanley S. Hubbard, helped the company expand its broadcasting reach to markets across the nation. Today, in addition to Hubbard Broadcasting’s major Minnesota presence, dozens of Hubbard radio and TV stations dot the country, from Seattle to Washington, D.C.
The Hubbards are also known for taking chances that may not have paid off. For example, in 1939, the eldest Hubbard bought the first TV camera sold by RCA, imagining a future for television that few others could foresee. Decades later, his son saw a huge opportunity with satellite newsgathering. His investment in that work allowed local news stations to do their own on-location reporting by sending trucks out around the country that could then transmit back to local stations.
For Al Tims, former director of the School, the Hubbards’ influence on the industry couldn’t be clearer. “When we think about pioneering media organizations in Minnesota that are still in operation and making valuable contributions, nothing comes close to Hubbard Broadcasting,” he said.
Through it all, the Hubbards have remained a family company, which gives them advantages in a market filled with corporate conglomerates. Scott Libin, who was news director at KSTP for five years before becoming a Hubbard Senior Fellow at the School, says the Hubbard approach created an atmosphere for exceptional journalism. “There’s no distant board of directors to deal with or concerns over stock price,” he says. “[The Hubbards] will not be beaten on a story for lack of resources. They are in this business for a reason, and they’re serious about news coverage.”
The expectation in the KSTP newsroom is that reporters will work their beat, knock on doors and bring back information from trusted sources that offer accountability and insight, said McEnroe. “It’s one thing to say you’re committed to investigative journalism and it’s another to actually be provided the resources, time and backing to pull it off,” he said. “That public service mission is the foundation of the Hubbards’ commitment to tough and smart journalism.”
It shows, not only to the Minnesota community, but nationally as well. In addition to a trophy case full of awards for the company, Stanley S. Hubbard received the prestigious First Amendment Leadership Award from the Radio Television Digital News Foundation at a ceremony in Washington, D.C., in February 2017. Past winners include 60 minutes creator Don Hewitt, Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham and CNN founder Ted Turner.
The Hubbard family’s grand media ambitions have been no secret. The family’s consistent and significant efforts to give back to the community and the industry might not be as well known. For example, the Hubbards donated $5 million to the Washington, D.C.-based Newseum in 2015, which helps educate visitors about the importance of a free and fair press. “For decades, the Hubbards have been living the values that the Newseum is working so hard every day to preserve and promote,” said Peter Prichard, chairman of the Newseum and Newseum Institute, at a May 2016 event honoring the gift.
Giving to the University of Minnesota, however, has been a particular passion for them. (Stanley S. Hubbard is a graduate of the University, as is his grandson, Rob Rominski.) They’ve supported the Masonic Cancer Center, Gopher Athletics and the College of Science and Engineering.
In 2000, the Hubbard family made a transformational gift of $10 million to the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, the School’s largest-ever gift. The gift has made a difference to every student who’s been through the School since then. Hubbard-funded scholarships and fellowships have supported more than 100 undergraduate and graduate students. Hubbard funding has helped equip the digital media lab in the basement of Murphy Hall with some of the best technology in the country.
According to Tims, Hubbard support has been a rare and precious type of philanthropy: restriction-free. The School’s leadership team has had the freedom it needs to designate funding as it sees fit. That flexibility has allowed the School to invest in faculty retention packages, set up packages for newly hired faculty and even make infrastructure improvements.
Tims said he was often able to use Hubbard gifts in ways that multiplied results. For example, some donors want to establish permanent endowed funds—pools of money that provide scholarships or research support every single year—as part of their legacy. Hubbard funds have frequently been used to match these donor gifts, which makes it possible for a larger number of donors to reach the required funding levels for an endowed fund. “[With matching gifts,] donors reached thresholds that they couldn’t have reached otherwise, and that sets the stage for us to have incredible success,” said Tims.
The Hubbards, for their part, say that they were happy to hand the reins over to the School when they made their gift. In a 2015 interview, Stanley S. Hubbard said he knew the School would be an exceptional steward of the Hubbard gift. “We put it good hands, and we trust [the School’s leadership] completely.”
Hubbard support came in more than just dollars and cents: it came in the form of wisdom, too. KSTP professionals—and the Hubbards themselves—frequently visit the University to share their expertise with students. Hubbard Broadcasting was known to have particularly student-friendly internship policies, said Kathleen Hansen, a current professor and former director of undergraduate studies at the School. “For many years, KSTP was the only TV station that paid student interns. That was an enormous benefit to those students who didn’t have the financial wherewithal to work for no pay,” she said. “Many, many students benefited.”
Looking Toward the Future
Joining just two other named schools at the University—the Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs and the Curtis L. Carlson School of Management—the new Hubbard SJMC is in elite company.
New director Elisia Cohen said she’s thrilled to lead the newly named School. She’s ready to find ways to infuse the best qualities of Hubbard Broadcasting into the University’s programs. “I hope to bring the Hubbard family’s entrepreneurial and innovative spirit toward the School’s new research and teaching initiatives in digital media strategy, health communication, and media, ethics and democracy,” she said.
And although the name will change, the School’s mission remains the same: to prepare students for careers in a wide variety of specializations within the ever-changing industry of journalism and strategic communication. In an era when all media is in flux and when “fake news” accusations have become commonplace, the Hubbard name will continue to encourage students and faculty members to embrace some of the most important elements of great journalism and communication: tenacity, ambition and an openness to new ideas.
How a University School Gets a New Name
The Hubbard School of Journalism and Mass Communication joins just two other University of Minnesota colleges and schools named after prominent alumni. What does it take to get such recognition? Mark Baumgartner, assistant dean of development and chief arts philanthropy officer for the College of Liberal Arts, walks through the six- to eight-month process.
- A faculty or staff member at the University of Minnesota writes a letter of nomination for the individual or family to be considered.
- The dean or chancellor of the school provides a letter of support.
- The nominator seeks out two to four letters of support from other areas of the nominee’s life. (Sam Donaldson, formerly of ABC News, and Jeffrey Herbst, president and CEO of the Newseum, wrote two of the letters supporting the Hubbards.)
- All research and letters of support are provided to the Senate All-University Honors Committee, a group of faculty, non-faculty, students and alumni that meets quarterly.
- The committee extensively discusses and vets each nominee. The process is confidential—disclosure is not made to the nominee or the public.
- The committee brings the nomination to a vote. If the recommendation is approved, it is shared with the president and Board of Regents, who must then also vote on the recommendation.
- If the Regents approve, a letter is sent to the nominee. Once the nominee accepts, the honor is made public.
For more information on the process, visit University Honors & Awards.