Dennis Cripe · 2008

By 
Ernest Wilkinson

Dennis Alan Cripe’s long and distinguished career of teaching journalism evolved from his childhood when he helped his dad and mom publish a weekly newspaper that cared about its community, the small western Indiana town of Williamsport.

He grew up in that weekly, the Williamsport Review Republican, spending much of his youth in the back shop. He also did some writing, particularly sports. His first job was helping wrap copies of the weekly in brown paper for mailing. As he grew tall enough, Cripe took printed sheets of paper from what is now an antique, a flatbed press, and carried them to the folder.

Cripe learned to operate another antique, a Linotype machine. He also learned how to make up a page and set type by hand for commercial job orders, using the California job case. “I learned to take pride in the way a page looks,” he recalled.

Cripe was quick to adapt to the new technologies in producing a newspaper. By the time he graduated from high school in 1965, one of those new technologies offset printing was in its infancy. He became familiar with the offset method and in the use of electronics in page makeup and platemaking for offset presses.

“In my career there has been a major technological change every few years in the production of a newspaper,” Cripe noted. “Change to me is exciting. But the message is still the same. Community matters. I try to instill that in my students.”

It was a lesson Cripe learned from dinner-table conservations with his parents, the late Herbert Cripe and his mother, Florence. “Dad cared
passionately about the community,” Dennis said. “Dad cared about the community and what makes a town vital.”

Through the newspaper, Cripe’s father campaigned for a new Little League baseball park that he believed was needed. It took a while to get the new park. His dad also championed other causes and was against school consolidation in Warren County. Whether in supporting or opposing issues, he was fair with the facts, Cripe remembered.

Cripe used lessons he learned at the Review Republican in his classroom when he was a journalism teacher and adviser of the student newspaper at Marion County’s Ben Davis High School. He continues to do so today at Franklin College, where he is professor of journalism in the Pulliam School of Journalism.

He has urged students to help fill food baskets for the needy at Thanksgiving and to become involved in other community projects. “It seems to me that a spirit of community service is the foundation on which journalism skills are best built,” said Cripe, who was Indiana’s journalism teacher of the year in 1986.

As a journalism teacher and as executive director of the Indiana High School Press Association, Cripe has stood firm against censorship of student publications by school administrators. Here’s hy—censorship undercuts trust. Journalism teachers need the same trust a coach needs
from athletes or any classroom teacher needs from students. Censorship undermines the risk
inherent in all learning. But he added that journalism teachers need to instill in their students the value of being fair and responsible in what they write.

As a journalism teacher and as executive director of the Indiana High School Press Association, Cripe has stood firm against censorship of student publications by school administrators. Here’s why censorship undercuts trust. Journalism teachers need the same trust a coach needs from athletes or any classroom teacher needs from students.

Censorship undermines the risk inherent in all learning. But he added that journalism teachers need to instill in their students the value of being fair and responsible in what they write.

Also dear to his heart is Cripe’s belief that the majority of high school students assign little value
to the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The reason, he said, may be a lack of good journalism programs that teach democratic values. He has also carried his view about journalism studies to the general public through numerous guest columns in daily newspapers and more extensively in professional journals and in college seminars.

Cripe’s views are supported without reservation by statements from several of his former students who are successful today in their chosen fields. One of them, Laura Baenen, is a former Associated Press writer and editor who today is a government communications manager for a light rail transit project in Minneapolis-St. Paul.

Baenen recalls that when she was a reporter and editor of the Ben Davis High School newspaper that “Mr. Cripe always allowed his students the freedom to make mistakes so they would learn from them. He argued that other students such as athletes and band members were allowed the same freedom to make mistakes on the playing field or in concerts and thought journalism students should have the same opportunity.”

Another Ben Davis student editor and now the Greenwood, Indiana, student paper adviser,
Denise Roberts, said that Cripe’s guidance and influence led her to choose a journalism teaching career. And she said he still influences her and others who seek his advice and help in
solving problems. Another teacher, Chad Tuley, said that he has great respect for Cripe “because of his commitment to Indiana high school journalism. His knowledge and leadership have helped pave the way for successful journalism programs for years.”

When Tuley faced administrator wrath because of an article in a student publication of which he was the adviser at an Indiana high school, the first person he sought for advice and assistance
was Cripe. “Although the situation did not improve at that school, I always knew I had a friend and mentor in Dennis,” said Tuley, who today teaches at Scecina Memorial High School in Indianapolis.

A third teacher and student paper adviser, Mark Haab, who teaches at Marion County’s Warren Central High School, said that any honor he and the publications he advises have been accorded “is because Dennis inspired me and showed me how to listen and learn outside the classroom and textbooks. His greatest success is inspiring others. And although he has been involved in college journalism for many years, he has never really left high school journalism.”

Cripe noted that he has learned much from his students and associates and credits them for
much of his successes and the many local, state, and national honors that have been bestowed
on him.

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