THE LEGACY OF JAMES R. CAMPBELL

a byline with ten-million words of integrity

By Joseph H. Carter, Sr., 1992 inductee

For you who have seen the MSNBC interviews from our nation’s Capitol, standing behind that on-camera politician is a fellow in bronze: that’s the real Will Rogers, keeping his eyes on Congress.

Equally solid is James R. Campbell in capturing the essence of Oklahoma’s favorite son. Campbell was a great writer, pundit, and Oklahoma newsman who surely equaled Will Rogers’ integrity, good humor, and search for truth.

When Wiley Post slammed his plane into the sea near Point Barrow, Alaska, Campbell was only three years old. What was left of the life, writings, words, and wisdom of Will Rogers were dissolved into the ages.

I propose that much of that evasive, folksy, truth-telling talent seems to have settled and grown on Campbell.

From United Press international bureaus of America and the press room at the Oklahoma Capitol, we have been blessed with seeing the Will Rogers-like persona of James Campbell. Later, when he played “Mr. Voter” in the Oklahoma City Gridiron, it became even more obvious.

Lucky for me, when I was hired by United Press international in 1959, Campbell was already aboard as a wire service correspondent at the Oklahoma City bureau, atop the Skirvin Tower. He became my mentor, editor, collaborator, and friend.

A year earlier, Campbell had graduated from a $70-per-week reporting job at the Bartlesville Enterprise to $80-per-week as a UPi correspondent. I was in Campbell’s vortex from the Sapulpa Herald. Both Army veterans. Same salaries. Same new challenges of tough deadline writing, unbiased but verified reporting to be tested by many newspaper editors and Tv journalists.

Biographers calculate that Will Rogers published some two million words. i calculate that with over 30 years at United Press international,

Jim Campbell wrote many more—more than 10 million words. Most of those words Campbell wrote were carefully selected. Broadcasters and editors demand truth, clarity, and copy written brightly but sprightly. Also, no misspelled words for print media.

For Campbell, few readers and newscast listeners knew at the time about the rigorous tests faced by each of those millions of words written and sent over the wires of UPi under the “James R. Campbell” byline.

The mandate was: get it first, but first get it right. As Campbell and I learned back in the 1950s, UPi’s slogan was “Deadline Every Minute.” it meant that somewhere a newspaper was going to press or a newscast was about to begin. The demand was for the delivery of the latest news “right now” but to first get it “right.” And, perfect spelling. All of the writing and reporting by Campbell was under that pressure for more than 30 years. He never flinched.

In this new electronic age, unverified, unedited Facebook posts and tweets have been unleashed onto the vulnerable minds of humanity. In contrast, Campbell rose in a world of higher education, of fine training, of high-pressure writing, of fact-checking editors, and from tested and rigorous standards of established professional journalism.

Something Will Rogers said years ago has become appropriate today: “It may be years before there is much ‘new’ news. it’s going to take a new generation of people to make ‘new’ news.”

Hopefully, a new generation of journalists, with their tough editors and demanding readers and listeners, will draw on the life and literacy and tough legacy of great reporting by James R. Campbell.

Working journalists, students of the trade, and historians can be advised that the James R. Campbell byline meant unbiased, non-partisan, honest, well-written, and always reliable news reporting. Never “fake news.”

Let us rekindle and keep the “Campbell Standard” and legacy alive—forever.

Jim Campbell (right) enjoys a discussion between fellow colleagues Frosty Troy (left) and John Greiner.
Photograph used for a story in The Daily Oklahoman newspaper. “Gridiron Club President Jim Campbell, left, shows the program to Gov. Nigh.” Doug Hoke, February 17, 1979. Courtesy of the Oklahoma Historical Society.