Kurt Johnson

Co-Publisher, Aurora News-Register

Aurora, NE

[NE-E 0101]

I’ve had a lot of experiences where I’ve felt like we have impacted individual families or people’s lives with a particular feature story or something, but when I was executive editor of a daily in South Dakota – it was – the university in town was owned by a Japanese gentleman, and the cultural difference –- it was a little bit of an ego thing for him, and he wanted to show his Japanese counterparts that he owned an American university – and yet, on the US front – the whole accreditation process and the things that you had to be accredited – he was kind of used to running his own show and calling his own shots.

And so in the process of reporting, ironically, my first cousin, a Harvard graduate, was in Tokyo and I developed an e-mail relationship with a friend of his who was working at this University. And I began to get information about enrollment straight from the registrar’s office that was completely different than what I was hearing from the Japanese owner when he came to America and to South Dakota to talk about it.

So I had to be very careful how I used that source, but I was asking questions and actually showing some documents, and at first he was very offended and [he said,] “Where did you get this?”

He began to answer my questions honestly, and – long story short – over a course of about two years [with] the North Central accreditation, he lost his accreditation.

And right before he was going to lose his accreditation he was forced to sell, and I’m just absolutely convinced the newspaper’s coverage of that exposed what was really going on before a lot of people knew about it.

I have no idea internally who in America on that campus knew he was just beefing up his numbers as far as Japanese enrollment – students that were being sent – and where the finances were. It was just not an accurate picture.

So our newspaper absolutely – and in the town of 14,000, a university or not having a University was a huge, huge deal then as it is still today. So it struck me then – I was feeling the heat of it, you know, of getting visits from the on-site campus president asking me where am I getting this information – and realizing that, you know, this wasn’t just an ironic cute game. I had a source. And it was a big deal. It impacted people’s lives and the whole community.

And that was really an eye-opener for me – that this is serious business, and you need to treat it that way.