Hard to say what Stu Werner remembers better, 35 years and five newspaper stops later: the teachings of Steve Helle or the farewell he got from his favorite College of Media professor before setting off on a distinguished career as an editor.
“I had a lot of terrific teachers at Illinois,” Werner says, but none who left a mark on the 18-year Chicago Tribune editor, now at The Washington Post, quite like Helle, the three-time recipient of the campus’ outstanding undergrad teaching award.
“The media law class was a wonderful experience, my introduction to the Socratic method, and Steve practiced that masterfully,” Werner says. “Heaven help you if you skipped your reading and tried to hide out in the back of the class; he’d sniff that out in a heartbeat and ask you whether you thought (insert name here) would qualify as a public figure in a libel action under Time v. Firestone. With a smile on his face, of course.
“Steve was there to engage you, not embarrass you. He was passionate about the law and about journalism, and it really was infectious.
“I found, especially early in my career, that I was particularly well-schooled in media law, thanks entirely to him. His class on courts reporting also has served me well over 35 years of editing at five newspapers, especially in understanding the scope of any particular court ruling.
“As a bonus, Steve took me out for a beer after I accepted an offer for my first newspaper job out of college” — copy editor at the Bloomington Pantagraph — “and we corresponded occasionally on matters of media and the courts for many years,” Werner says.
“Amazing that he would take the time to do that given how many kids he’d worked with in his time at Greg Hall.”