Professor Emerita Marsha Della-Giustina, founder of Emerson’s broadcast journalism program and a trailblazer for women in the profession, is being remembered this week by generations of alumni and colleagues as a huge presence in the classroom and the newsroom – at once demanding, exacting, unfailingly fair, and deeply caring.
Professor Della-Giustina died Monday, June 12, 2023, following a brief illness. She was 76.
“Marsha dedicated herself to the success of her students in the field of journalism,” said Interim Provost Jan Roberts-Breslin. “She helped launch countless careers and continued to mentor her former students through their careers. We honor her many years of service to Emerson, and express our condolences to the alumni, colleagues, friends, and family who mourn her passing and will miss her greatly.”
Professor Della-Giustina joined Emerson in 1977 to build an undergraduate program in broadcast journalism, a mission she expanded on 20 years later when she helped create the College’s first master’s program in journalism. In the classroom, she had a reputation for being tough, but fair, and she inspired fierce love and loyalty from thousands of former students.
The founder and long-time advisor and general manager of WEBN, Emerson’s student-run broadcast news staton, Professor Della-Giustina led the station to six Associated Press College News Station of the Year awards, a National College Broadcasters Award, and dozens of additional AP awards.
Through WEBN, Professor Della-Giustina gave students opportunities to cover high-profile, national news stories, including presidential inaugurations, Iowa Caucuses, the Academy Awards, Super Bowls, and Spring Training. In 2012, she received an Emerson Recognition and Achievement (ERA) Award for Advisor of the Year for her role with the station.
She leaves a long list of Emerson alumni across the New England media landscape and beyond who can credit Professor Della-Giustina, directly or indirectly, with launching and supporting their careers, among them, WCVB-TV News Anchor Maria Stephanos ’89, MA ’93.
“Marsha was a force, not only in my life, but in the lives of thousands,” Stephanos said. “I carry Marsha and her wisdom with me every single time I walk into Channel 5: ‘Believe no one, assume nothing, and follow the money’ [she taught us]”
Shortly before she died, Professor Della-Giustina texted Stephanos (“She would text all the time”), worried that she (Stephanos) had a cold. Also, that her earrings were too big.
“Marsha never stopped trying to make her students the best we could be. She was tough and fair, but it was Marsha who was the best of the best. Top of the class and guiding us all in life and now from above,” Stephanos said.
Associate Professor of Journalism Paul Niwa recalled visiting CBS Radio Network and having one person after another come up to him and say, ‘Say hi to Marsha for me.’
“We dominated that newsroom because of Marsha,” Niwa said.
Professor Della-Giustina didn’t just create the broadcast journalism program at Emerson, she founded a culture within the Journalism Department that made the program special and continues to this day, Niwa said.
Journalism students can walk into faculty members’ offices whenever they need advice, and can expect “merciless, honest critiques” on their work that will make them better reporters, and Marsha was the progenitor of that, Niwa said.
“She’s the mother of the department. We’re born of her and her work ethic,” said Niwa, who, like Della-Giustina, is a former chair. “The specialness of the department, these reporting opportunities to go to the Oscars, to go to Las Vegas to cover a conference, Spring Training, all these come from Marsha.”
In addition to being a mentor to thousands of students, Niwa said she was a “tireless advocate” for women journalists generally. “She would do studies about women in leadership in journalism so that we had really good data and be [able to push for change],” he said.
Niwa said she could be “intense,” but it was because she cared so deeply about her students and their careers. She also cared about her colleagues and friends.
“We could disagree and walk away, and I would know she would still support me, and that’s something I’m going to miss,” he said. “Someone I could talk to, I could pray with, I could share my family with.”
During her 40-plus-year tenure at Emerson College, she served multiple terms as department chair and represented the Journalism faculty as a founding advisor of the chartered chapters of the Radio Television Digital News Association (RTNDA) and the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ). As both a news producer and an educator, she specialized in media management, political journalism, international affairs, and gender issues.
Professor Della-Giustina retired in 2021 and was given Emerita status in 2022.
She started her career covering education for her hometown newspaper, the Agawam (Mass.) Independent, while still in high school. After graduating from college in the late-1960s, she taught junior high school English, but soon was drawn back to journalism.
She returned at a time when there were few women in the field. As producer and host of I Am Woman, a critically acclaimed public affairs program that aired on WBZ-FM in Boston from 1973-1974, she gave women a a window into economic, political, and cultural issues through a female lens.
As a news producer for WCVB-TV, Professor Della-Giustina oversaw multiple broadcasts per day, serving as both an electronic news gathering producer and assignment editor, and earning two team Emmys. She also served as a field producer for a number of special events, including the 1976 presidential election. From 1986-1990, she worked as an associate producer and writer for WLVI-TV in Boston.
In addition to her Emmy Awards, she won a SPJ National Advisor Award, a Distinguished Broadcast Journalism Education Achievement Award, and a Curriculum Design Award from the Women’s Institute for Freedom of the Press.
Professor Della-Giustina also was an independent television producer, and was founder and principal of Giustina Productions from 1979-1989, and News Media Inc. from 1991-1992.
She won a National Gracie Allen Award from American Women in Radio and Television (AWRT) for her 1997 film, Women in Non-Traditional Occupations, High-Wage, High-Skill Achievement, as well as a Golden Globe Screen Award from the National Association of Government Communicators and a special citation from the Education Writers Association. Her documentary, A Roundtable on Domestic Violence and Media, won a Commendation Award from AWRT, and her feature documentary, Courage to Change: Male Batterers, is included in many curriculums.
A graduate of Agawam High School in 1964, she received a BA in English from Russell Sage College in 1968, an MS in Broadcast Journalism from Boston University in 1974, and an Ed.D. in Media and New Technology from BU in 1985.
A devout Christian, she served as the first faculty advisor to the Emerson College Christian Fellowship. She also was a diehard Red Sox fan and a longtime supporter of the Elizabeth Stone House, which provides services to domestic violence survivors.
She leaves her sister, Jo-Ann Della-Giustina, of Plymouth, Massachusetts; her brother, Joseph Della-Giustina Jr., of Palm Beach, Florida; her niece, Joey Della-Giustina, and great-niece, Lailah Raine, of Palm Beach; several cousins; and thousands of former students who loved her.
Jonathan “Satch” Satriale ’94, MA ’09, ’14, Technology Director for Emerson’s School of Communication and a former student of Professor Della-Giustina, was one of those former students. He called her a “legend” at Emerson and beyond.
“Marsha was many things to me: professor, colleague, general manager, other-mother, and mentor. But most of all, she was a friend,” Satriale said. “Her legacy is seen and unseen in newsrooms and journalism outlets around the world.
“She meant so much to so many, it’s hard to find the words, other than to say, ‘Thank you, Marsha.’”