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Ford Center for the Fine Arts

In Memoriam: James S. Dyer

James “Jim” S. Dyer, highly respected assistant professor and chair of journalism at Knox College, passed away on February 12, 2023. 

A member of the Knox faculty since 2013, Dyer made innumerable contributions to the department and the College. His primary teaching interests centered around narrative feature writing, media law and ethics, multimedia journalism, and oral history. 

Dyer received a bachelor of arts degree in Spanish from the University of Minnesota in 1989, a master's of arts in journalism and Spanish from the University of Iowa in 2002 and 2006, and a doctorate in Spanish from the University of Iowa in 2017.

“Jim was loved and respected by his students and faculty colleagues alike, and future Knox students will be the poorer for not having the opportunity to have their lives enhanced by being taught or mentored by Professor Jim Dyer,” Michael Godsil, associate professor and professor of practice in art, said. 

Dyer’s career before Knox was as interesting as it was impressive. After finishing graduate school at the University of Iowa, he worked for five years covering the crime beat at the Dubuque Telegraph-Herald and the Quad-City Times. Later in his career, he was among a dozen journalists nationwide chosen by the National Press Foundation to work and study in Morelos, Mexico. While there, he worked for La Jornada covering the massacre of peaceful protesters in Tepoztlan by government troops. 

In 1997, Dyer was hired by the Detroit News to cover the criminal court system, investigating a story that exposed that nearly 40 percent of Detroit’s felony cases were dismissed because of institutional malfeasance. When relations soured between Iraq and the United States in 1998, the Detroit News chose Jim, who had only been at the paper for 15 months, to cover it because of his experience living and working overseas and his storytelling skills.

After joining the faculty at Knox in 2013, Dyer spent nearly a decade immersing himself in oral history, conducting hundreds of in-depth interviews of Galesburg residents, Knox alumni, and many others. Dyer also served the College as a volunteer assistant tennis coach for men’s and women’s tennis. He also worked with students to create the “Live Lit Storytelling” club, which held live storytelling nights at Cherry Street Restaurant for several years. 

Dyer’s career was filled with awards and accomplishments, including multiple nominations for the Pulitzer Prize (1997, 1999, 2001). He received many journalistic awards, including the W. Earl Hall Award for Interpretive Writing (1992), the National Press Foundation’s Spanish Fellowship Abroad Award (1996), and the Detroit Press Foundation Public Service Award (1997). His career in teaching also saw many accolades, including the Sandra H. Barkan Graduate Student Outstanding Mentor Award (2009) and a grant from the Center for News Literacy for Bringing News Literacy to Knox College and Galesburg Area (2014).

The College will offer opportunities in the future to further celebrate Dyer’s life and his lasting impact on the Knox community.

Remarks on James Dyer

“During my time as editor of The Register-Mail, I worked closely with Jim and his classes at Knox. In 2015, one of his classes collaborated on the newspaper’s award-winning project on domestic violence and another project in 2019 focused on how money impacts DUI defense. Jim absolutely lifted these projects and inspired his students. On a lighter note, Jim often called me at The Register-Mail to talk about this or that. When I’d answer, he’d disguise his voice and pretend to be a reader complaining about delivery. Every call was like this. If I was off my game, he’d get me going for a sentence or two. I’m going to miss those calls.” -Tom Martin, Executive Editor of the Quad-City Times

“Professor Dyer was a storyteller. In every story he told, he was technical, honest, and even if he wasn't supposed to be funny, he found a way to make you laugh. His gift of storytelling not only touched me but encouraged so many of my classmates to pursue the art of telling stories. Though we all take different routes, in every story we tell there is little of Professor Dyer’s technicality, honesty, and, when appropriate, his sense of humor. It was an honor and privilege to be taught by someone who went the extra mile for his students. He broke us down to give us humility and a thick skin to survive whatever we did. He will always be with us in our stories.” -Courtney Hill '17

“Within minutes of a conversation, Jim Dyer could talk anyone into spilling their wildest stories. I've watched him knock on strangers' doors for interviews, help the most timid people feel comfortable in front of a camera, and even coach students into telling live audiences their most embarrassing stories on stage. I was one of those students—self-conscious in front of strangers and intimidated by the ease with which Dyer could talk to anyone. But his projects threw us directly into the field, and soon we were knocking on doors ahead of the 2015 election, driving from Galesburg to Arkansas to interview Civil Rights activist Elizabeth Eckford, archiving decades of oral histories, and telling our own life stories in front of live crowds at Cherry Street. Dyer taught us through constant practice how to listen actively and ask questions without inhibition. We built up our stamina for reporting like real journalists in the field. But most importantly, we picked up his genuine love for storytelling.” -Casey Mendoza '16

“Jim was not only hilarious in the classroom, but he cared deeply about his students. He was an old-school journalist and wasn’t afraid to challenge us or push us to be the best reporters we could be. I learned everything I know about journalism from Jim. He supported me throughout my career as a journalist and I wouldn’t be where I am today without the many life lessons and career advice he gave me during my time at Knox. I will never forget all the “baptisms by fire” or the many stories he told. In my junior year, he started the Live Literature club in which he told numerous hilarious stories and encounters he had growing up. Some of my favorite memories from Knox are from sitting in on a Live Lit performance and hearing him tell those stories. Jim was my professor and advisor, but I also considered him a mentor. I am heartbroken to hear of his passing and my condolences are with his family.” -Sierra Henry '18

“Jim taught me everything I know about what it means to be a great writer and a genuine knowledge seeker. He constantly challenged me as a student, and even after graduation was always there to offer his support. He was the first person I confided in as a reference for my first job out of college and he did it without question. Whenever I visited campus, I always said hello and every time, without fail, he’d wrap me up in a giant hug like I was home.” -Eryn Behera '18

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Printed on Wednesday, April 24, 2024