Roy Peter Clark to retire from The Poynter Institute at year end
The Poynter Institute has announced that Roy Peter Clark, its first faculty member nearly four decades ago, will retire from full-time status at the end of this year.
Clark, who has authored or edited 18 books on the art of writing and taught thousands of journalists at the Institute over the span of his 38 years here, will continue to teach and work on special projects at Poynter next year on a part-time, contractual basis. Poynter intends to continue Clark's legacy by making writing a central focus of the Institute's teaching, and it plans to fill that faculty position next year.
Clark has played a seminal role at Poynter, influencing and inspiring a generation of journalists in the craft of writing.
Clark, who earned a doctorate from Stony Brook University, began his journalism career in 1977 when he was hired by Eugene Patterson, editor of the then St. Petersburg Times, now the Tampa Bay Times. At the time he was teaching English at a small college in Montgomery, Ala.
Patterson, together with Nelson Poynter, then the owner of the St. Petersburg Times, hired Clark as a newsroom writing coach with the aspiration to improve quality and elevate the craft of writing in American journalism. After Poynter's death in 1978, his vision of ensuring a privately held, locally-owned news organization run by journalists and owned by a non-profit school was put quickly into action through the Modern Media Institute, now known as The Poynter Institute for Media Studies.
"I was hired for a one-year project," Clark said. "Funny how one year became 40."
Clark was hired by the Institute as its first full-time faculty member to demonstrate its serious academic ambitions. He eventually became the first dean of the faculty, the first vice president and its first senior scholar. He established the foundation of Poynter's centers of activity, which focused on writing, ethics, leadership and visual journalism. These pillars of excellence are very much intact today at Poynter, though studies in visual journalism have evolved into teaching digital innovation and storytelling.
His influence extended beyond journalists, however. Clark pioneered a partnership with Pinellas County to teach children to write and work with public school teachers. He has touched generations of young writers in the Tampa Bay community, and his list of local pupils includes Hollywood film producer Will Packer and Kanika Jelks-Tomalin, the deputy mayor of St. Petersburg.
Through his work at Poynter, Clark became known as "America's Writing Coach" and fueled creative new genres in American journalism. In the 1990s, Clark was a catalyst of the serial narrative format. He not only taught it, he practiced it. He authored the series "Three Little Words," which was published in the St. Petersburg Times in 1996, and "Sadie's Ring," published by several newspapers, including the Miami Herald.
Diana K. Sugg first met Clark in Poynter's program for liberal arts graduates in 1987. She went on to win a Pulitzer Prize for the Baltimore Sun in 2003, and is now an editor there. "Roy has been an incredible blessing to me and so many other journalists across the country. He raised me up throughout every phase of my career, from a rookie covering general assignment, to night police reporter and medical reporter. Now as a projects editor, I hear his voice in my heart every day."
Tom French, a Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist and author of numerous serial narrative storytelling works, said his friend and mentor had a profound impact on his career since they met 35 years ago, when French was a young reporter at the St. Petersburg Times.
"Roy is the greatest friend and the most inspiring writing teacher I've ever known. He taught me – and thousands of other writers around the world – that writing is not magic, that it's something all of us can learn and sharpen. I was 23 when I first heard him share that simple lesson, and it has shaped every story I've tackled in the decades since," said French. "Roy is the Obi-Wan-Kenobi of writing coaches – wise and generous and deeply human – and knowing him has been the gift of a lifetime. I have no doubt I'll be learning from him for many years to come."
Clark's books include "Writing Tools," "The Glamour of Grammar," "Help! For Writers," "How to Write Short" and "The Art of X-Ray Reading." His writing also appears on poynter.org, the news and information site of The Poynter Institute, where numerous instructive essays can be found.
A staple of Clark's teaching was his use of music. The more he used music as an instructional tool, the more people demanded it. "If you are going to teach adverbs and semicolons, you'd better have an escape hatch. Mine was music. It relaxes and energizes students. It offers lessons on rhythm, sound and the power of stories," Clark said.
Paul Tash, chairman of Poynter's Board of Trustees and chairman and CEO of the Times Publishing Co., added, "I've learned a lot from Roy. At a seminar a couple of years ago, Roy and I were both listed as 'faculty,' but I picked up some pointers from his presentation that improved my own writing. He is an original, and it is hard to imagine The Poynter Institute without him. Fortunately, we don't have to."
"Roy's work will leave an indelible imprint on Poynter, just as it has on the many, many journalists who've been inspired by his teaching," said Institute President Tim Franklin. "Roy played a central role in building the international reputation that the Institute enjoys today. To everyone who has worked here, though, Roy has simply been the best colleague that anyone could ask for – a mentor and a friend."