A Newsworthy Career

Written by: 
Brittney Dear
Neil Foote
Neil Foote

Neil Foote has always been interested in journalism. Growing up, he loved to read and write, and he worked for his high school newspaper, where he served as sports editor.

"As a young boy, perhaps 10 or 11 years old or so, I used to deliver newspapers to several neighbors -- the New York Daily News during the weekdays and Saturday -- and The New York Times on Sundays," Foote says. "I knew journalism was what I wanted to do."

From those humble beginnings, the principal lecturer in UNT's Mayborn School of Journalism has built an impressive career -- in addition to making a name for himself in academia, he's worked in news outlets including The Miami Herald, The Washington Post, The Dallas Morning News, and for the American Society of Newspaper Editors. His career and dedication to diversifying newsrooms recently earned him induction into the National Association of Black Journalists Hall of Fame.

"It is truly an honor; I am humbled to be recognized amongst so many greats," he says. "Ever since I started in the journalism business in 1981, I've been involved in NABJ; the organization has always been a part of my life."

Though Foote didn't major in journalism as an undergrad -- a journalism degree wasn't an option at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, where he attended -- Foote opted for a bachelor's in government and worked as a reporter and later as co-editor of the campus newspaper, The Wesleyan Argus.

"Wesleyan had just one journalism class, and I took every writing class they had," Foote says.

Eventually, Foote and his fellow Argus co-editor taught a journalism class in hopes of recruiting more staff writers for the paper. After convincing a professor to become their sponsor, the two editors had about 15 students enrolled, including many who went on to pursue journalism careers.

Following his undergraduate degree, Foote interned at The Miami Herald for five years covering police, schools, small-town government and business. During his time there, he also earned his master's in journalism from Northwestern University.

"It was a fun time at the Miami Herald -- many of us were new to the business and worked with some outstanding journalists; some of my editors were Pulitzer Prize winners or had decades of experience," Foote says. "The Miami Herald taught me how to never take 'no' for an answer from a source, and to show my undying curiosity to report, to dig and to never give up."

Foote then transitioned to The Washington Post in 1986, covering business real estate. He served there for four years before working at the American Society of Newspaper Editors to expand his knowledge of the newspaper industry and assist editors in identifying candidates for journalism positions. Then, in 1994, fueled by his interest to learn more about the business side of newspapers, he moved to Dallas where he rotated through various departments at The Dallas Morning News, eventually securing a role as an advertising sales manager.  

"Right around when the internet was just beginning to take off, I was tapped to help lead The Dallas Morning News' efforts in coming up with ideas on how to conquer the internet," Foote says. "I had to explain to my colleagues what the internet was, how it worked and why the newspaper should get into the business. Most of them looked at me like I was crazy."

While Foote was coming up with a sales strategy to complement the rising internet, his bosses encouraged him to get his M.B.A. from Southern Methodist University to learn more about business and strategy, especially with the implementation of social media. With 65% of Gen Z using social media to access news, journalism as a whole has transformed significantly over recent years.

"The fundamentals of being a good reporter include asking good questions and interviewing people and finding documents, but also using the tools we have accessible today to integrate that all into stories. How do we bring all of these things together to create an engaging experience? How do we use social media to tell stories?" Foote says.

The implementation of social media also has offered its fair share of new challenges, such as the spread of misinformation.

"If social media is driving where people get news and information, then that means the gate is wide open in terms of who the sources are for that information. I send you something and because you might trust me, you might not take the time to fact check it, and then you're going to share that information with your thousands of followers," Foote says. "Within minutes, people are exposed to the wrong information. But good journalists still ground their information in facts. At the end of the day, good journalism needs to be the loudest person in the room and shut down the spread of misinformation."

Following his M.B.A., Foote worked alongside Tom Joyner who, at the time, hosted the No. 1 morning radio show, the Tom Joyner Morning Show. In 2007, Foote launched his public relations marketing and branding firm, Foote Communications, bringing on Joyner as a client.

"I've worked with many media personalities, business executives, authors and nonprofits, doing everything from press releases to marketing and branding. I've been very lucky that Foote Communications is entirely built on referrals because of my success in my journalism career," Foote says.

Foote has passed on the lessons he's learned from that successful career for the past 15 years at UNT, where he teaches digital media, business journalism, media management and media entrepreneurship.

"I love working with the students and sharing my expertise and knowledge and engaging in great conversations about the world of journalism," he says. "I'm excited that there are students who are still interested in wanting to pursue this business."