Founding board member of the Online News Association and former School of Communication Professor Mary Jane “MJ” Bear lost her seven-month battle with leukemia in December, prompting the AU community to reflect on a life spent in service to her craft.
Bear worked a myriad of jobs in journalism, beginning in television as a Producer and Executive Producer, then as a project manager and consultant to Microsoft and eventually moving to National Public Radio where she became the Vice President for Online. Most recently, Bear began her dream job working as an Executive Producer for MSN-Microsoft, launching websites and television programming in Europe and the Middle East.
Wendell Cochran, Associate Professor at SOC and Senior Editor at the Investigative Reporting Workshop, hired Bear to teach broadcast journalism in 2002.
“There was a general fierceness about MJ,” Cochran said. “She was absolutely dedicated to her craft and her students, and making sure they produced the best work that they could do.”
Bear left AU in 2004 to serve as a Knight International Foundation Fellow in Bucharest, Romania, training journalism and media students and professionals and then went onto the Director of Programming position at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in the Czech Republic in 2005. One of her students, Chole Current, who received an MA in Journalism and Public Affairs in 2006, said that Bear not only convinced her to apply to AU, but also acted as a mentor.
“I often think I wound up where I am now, in a job I love, in a city I am still fascinated by, because of MJ’s encouragement,” said Current, who is now teaching first-year Media and Communications students at Istanbul Bilgi University. “I never thought of myself as having a mentor but in the past several months, whenever I’ve thought of MJ, I realized I did have a great and very quiet one in her. I’ve been very lucky to know her.”
Cochran said that Bear’s expertise in journalism and her understanding of the online medium was crucial in developing the journalism program at AU. “Her focus on integrating the Internet came from her loyalty to the field as well as her desire and belief that people needed to understand these techniques and tools,” he said. “Obviously as things have developed, it’s proven to be exactly what people have needed.”
Amy Eisman, Director of Writing Programs and head of the MA weekend program in Interactive Journalism at SOC, said that Bear’s professionalism was an extension of her personal beliefs. “It was MJ outside the classroom that I remember now, hosting delicious parties for graduate journalism students at her nearby apartment, cooking up so many platters they barely fit in her kitchen at one time,” Eisman said. “I have been in close touch with her over the years and I feel her loss acutely. MJ always did whatever she could for someone else, putting her own needs second. That’s who she was.”