University of Missouri-Columbia recently received $1 million from alumnus Walter B. Potter, Jr. to bolster community journalism. Let's face it, journalism has changed as august papers like the New York Times struggle and traffic surges at sites like BuzzFeed. These new times are especially challenges for smaller papers who've watched readers and ad revenues drop but can't play the national media game.
Potter, a third generation newspaperman, knows a thing or two about that. His father, Walter B. Potter Sr., owned and operated six community newspapers and served as president of the Virginia Press Association and the National Newspaper Association. His mother, Alice Kay, meanwhile, was an award-winning reporter and photographer for the Culpeper (Virginia) Star-Exponent. Potter started working at his father's paper at 13. After going to Vanderbilt University, Potter got his master's in journalism from University of Missouri.
As we've been saying here at IP, quite a few alumn gifts aren't just motivated by loyalty to a school—although that's certainly here—but by loyalty to an entire region. Potter built his career in this region, going on to work at the Nashville Banner and the Kansas City Times, among others. He currently lives in Virginia, having retired from the business.
What's more, this $1 million gift is directly tied to an earlier gift Potter made. In 2010, Potter established the Walter B. Potter Fund for Innovation in Local Journalism with $334,000. The centerpiece of the fund is the Walter B. Potter Sr. Conference in Innovation and Transformation in Community Journalism, which brings together community journalists from around the country to talk about the latest (and changing) trends in local journalism. One challenge Potter has keyed in on for local papers is research, recalling that at the first paper he founded, he was also the ad hoc research department.
This latest gift will endow the fund with more money, serving as a lesson that money that is well-spent might lead to larger giving down the line. Potter has more than doubled down on his commitment to his alma mater, where he serves as a lifetime member of its alumni association, as well as on the campaign cabinet for the One Mizzou comprehensive campaign. In the past, Potter has also given to his undergraduate alma mater, Vanderbilt.