Emerson College is remembering former professor, dean, and provost Mike Kittross, a rigorous communications scholar and self-described “gadfly, iconoclast, and curmudgeon,” who died Friday, June 1, in Seattle.
“Those of us who worked closely with Dr. Kittross owe him a great debt for all he taught us about editing and standards,” Visual and Media Arts Professor Tom Cooper wrote in a tribute to Kittross for Media Ethics, the publication Kittross, Cooper, and other academics founded in the 1980s.
“He also gave us many memories of what it means to fight hard for the values and ideas you feel are significant and for ethical principles of great worth,” Cooper wrote.
Kittross consulted for Emerson for a number of years before officially joining the faculty as a dean in 1984. He served as vice president for academic affairs and provost for a time, before choosing to return to the classroom teaching mass communication from 1987 to 1993.
At the first Media Ethics Summit, co-sponsored by Emerson and the Times Mirror Newspaper Organization in 1987, Kittross and a team of colleagues got the idea to launch a newsletter that would connect academics and professionals working in the field. The newsletter grew into Media Ethics, which Kittross edited from 1989 up until his death, according to Cooper.
At Emerson, Kittross earned a reputation as an exacting editor and was often prevailed upon to wield his “red pen,” Cooper recalled.
“I will always remember Mike as a tough editor with conscience and a sense of humor,” said Professor Emeritus of Journalism Emmanuel Paraschos, who as co-publisher of Media Ethics with Cooper worked alongside Kittross for decades. “He was a meticulous planner of the magazine’s themes, stories, and visuals.”
Kittross considered himself a “better editor than writer,” according to an endnote on his C.V., whose goals were to help his students and colleagues achieve their potential.
“Although on many occasions his self-created ‘gadfly, iconoclast, and curmudgeon’ appellation led Mike to intense debate,” Cooper wrote in the tribute, “he also had a soft side known to his close friends and was fond of reminiscing and playing the role of grand raconteur.”
John Michael Kittross majored in drama at Antioch College and earned a master’s degree in communication arts from Boston University. He was drafted into the Army during the Korean War and ended up an instructor at the U.S. Army Psychological Warfare Center at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. After his discharge in 1954, he earned a PhD at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
He got his first teaching job at the University of Southern California, where he taught telecommunications for nine years. In 1968, he took a position at Temple University, where he rose to assistant dean of the School of Communication and Theater, and then associate dean.
While at Temple, he authored Administration of American Telecommunications Policy (1980) and co-authored Stay Tuned: A Concise History of American Broadcasting (1978, now in its third edition). After leaving Emerson, in addition to his duties editing Media Ethics, Kittross co-authored Controversies in Media Ethics (1999). He contributed numerous articles and essays on the topics of the business, education, and history of broadcasting.
“Mike will be greatly missed and his colorful, gruff, inquisitive spirit will never be duplicated,” wrote Cooper.