Get me rewrite
College of Journalism and Communications
Mike Foley says he got into journalism by “luck and coincidence,” and nearly four decades later his luck seems to be holding.
A master lecturer in the College of Journalism and Communications, Foley teaches Reporting, widely regarded as one of the toughest and most odious classes at UF.
Foley has earned an equally tough reputation, yet the 61-year-old rebel who sports a Gator tattoo on his right shoulder and an earring in his left ear was named a universitywide Teacher of the Year for 2006-07.
“I’m enthusiastic about the subject and the job, and the students can tell,” Foley said. “Also, I do my best to be fair. I grade hard, it’s a hard class, but I try to be fair.”
But 40 years ago, Foley didn’t see himself grading anything.
In 1968, Foley was drafted and almost sent to Vietnam, but during his physical at the Jacksonville Naval Air Station, the Army discovered he had high blood pressure and labeled him ineligible for service. He was sent home the same day.
“Before I left, I kept telling everybody, “If I wasn’t going into the Army, I’d go to UF and major in journalism,” he said. “After I told everyone that, I couldn’t not do it. It’s the best thing I ever did.”
Interestingly enough, once Foley got into the high-stress, deadline-filled world of journalism in 1970, he stopped smoking, lost 50 pounds, and his blood pressure went down. He was in his element.
Even before he graduated from UF, Foley got a job in March 1970 writing for the Evening Independent, an afternoon paper owned by the St. Petersburg Times. Hugh Cunningham, then a UF journalism professor, recommended Foley for the job, which he landed without even putting together a résumé. His first story was about the rainy weather: “You’re Right, It’s Been Wet.”
Three and a half years later, Foley moved on to the St. Petersburg Times, where he would serve as city editor, executive editor and managing editor and along the way work with noted journalists such as Rick Bragg, Tom French and Anne Hull. He said his fondest memory is working with his staff and watching them improve.
Foley recalled the reporting that took place on May 9, 1980, when a 606-foot-long freighter named the Summit Venture crashed into the Sunshine Skyway Bridge over Tampa Bay. The accident dropped the bridge’s center span and sent 35 people to watery deaths.
“I had a great reporter working for me at the time, and it was her day off, but she heard about it and headed straight over there,” Foley said. “She got there before the cops did and talked to everybody, got some amazing stories.”
After working for the St. Petersburg Times for 30 years, Foley officially retired from the newspaper business eight years ago. Before he had time to prop up his feet, he got a call from UF journalism department chairman William McKeen, who asked him to come teach at the College of Journalism and Communications. Foley accepted and never looked back.
He also used the opportunity to go back to school for his master’s degree in mass communication, which he received in 2004. Two years later, the college recognized Foley with an honor named for the professor who had helped him all those years ago: the Hugh Cunningham Professor in Journalism Excellence.
Despite his years of experience and self-professed “huge ego,” Foley revealed something that might be comforting for his Reporting students: He still has bouts of writer’s block.
“I think we’re all afraid to not be perfect,” he said. “Even after all these years, a blank screen is still intimidating.”
- Photo credit: Kristen Bartlett Grace — University Photography