The first time Dr. Rick Jackson stepped onto the Seattle Pacific University campus, it was not as a student or as a professor, but as a journalist.
He was writing the religion beat for the Everett Daily Herald and was interviewing an author who he hoped would have profound stories for him.
However, things immediately were not going to plan for young Jackson. The author was “slumped in his chair, sucking on throat lozenges, looking generally exhausted,” according to Jackson.
Undaunted, Jackson approached, and started asking the big questions that he thought would glean powerful answers. He soon learned that this line of questioning was ineffective; in a moment that many journalists dread, Jackson realized he was running into a conversational brick wall.
“He gave me a lesson in how to take control of an interview … that was a really good lesson for me and reminder in doing interviews; don’t start with the big question,” Jackson remembered.
Now, as he nears his retirement in June after 24 years teaching journalism at SPU and advising The Falcon, Jackson has used those stories from his reporting days to teach his students. In retrospect, he looks fondly back on his first day on campus.
Anyone who knows him knows that there is nothing he loves more than asking questions, and becoming better at hearing stories.
His wife, Public Defender Christine Jackson, commented in an interview that her husband is notoriously devoted to questioning and learning about everyone he meets.
“We’ll be in those sort of dinner party-type environments, and I’ll look over and he’ll be sitting down with someone ‘interviewing’ them,” said Mrs. Jackson.
“For him, it’s like breathing.”
Dr. Jackson has been passionate about journalism for as long as he can remember, and he still lives every day like it is his first day on the job.
“Rick just loves journalism, I married a media junkie,” Mrs. Jackson said with a laugh.
Rick remembers knowing he loved his profession as early as childhood.
“I was always interested as a kid in watching the nightly news, reading magazines and newspapers,” said Jackson. “So some connection with journalism was always there for me, and, well, one thing lead to the next.”
‘The next,’ for Jackson, was a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Pennsylvania State, an alma mater to which he remains loyal, and then to the UW for his masters and eventually his doctorate, accomplished while teaching and advising The Falcon.
‘Next’ from there was a career that lead him through many publications and positions, including copy editing and religion reporting in both Missouri and Washington, but always towards his passion for truth-telling; though not always in the way he anticipated.
“The spring of 1995, I had just finished my master’s degree at the UW and [my wife and I] were a month away from our daughter being born, and I was working part time at the Herald,” Jackson remembered. It was in this important junction of his life that a job unexpectedly opened up at SPU.
Jackson interviewed with the dean on a Friday, for a position that would start in just two days on Monday. To his surprise, he got the job.
“SPU offered me a halftime instructor position while I finished up my doctorate,” Jackson said.“I went into the first class with books I had never read before, already ordered, and I showed up on the first day of class with three weeks planned on the syllabus. I just asked the students to bear with me.”
Soon after, while Jackson was still getting his bearings, the then-advisor for the Falcon resigned, fed-up with disagreements she was having with administration. Jackson, with his enthusiasm for journalism, was the perfect fit for the job.
Through the rocky beginning years with students learning to trust him as their new advisor, to eventually gaining traction and starting to build a culture of enthusiasm, to today, Jackson maintains the same posture towards his position.
“He just really wanted to teach all of them good journalism, and how to be the truth-tellers in their community, which is a hard thing to do,” Mrs. Jackson remarked.
Dr. Jackson has now faithfully advised the Falcon for each of the 24 years since, through many seasons of challenges and successes.
“Well, it’s been tremendous joy, and a great challenge,” summarized Mrs. Jackson.
She remembers a consistent level of devotion to the paper throughout.
At times, in the early years of Rick’s time at the Falcon, she would wake up for work at 5:00 a.m. and the car would still be gone, because he had not yet left The Falcon house.
Other years, he would commute to school and home twice per day on Tuesdays and Thursdays: to teach, back home to take care of their two children until she was home from work, and then back to campus to be in the office for Tuesday production nights or Thursday meetings.
“I think those Falcon nights have been some of the best, and some of the hardest,” Mrs. Jackson said. “It’s always very exciting, there is never a dull moment. It keeps you young.”
After so many years at the paper, Dr. Jackson still attends every meeting and every production night, often staying late into the night to help students rework a deadline article. He also makes himself available to meet with Falcon editors and staff frequently, to advise and guide them through the year.
Dr. Jackson still loves his job and working with students as much as he did in the beginning. He uses his years of reporting experience, as well as years at the Falcon, to inform his advising.
After reporting and advising a newspaper for his entire career, he has yet to grow tired of the thrill of producing a paper every week, nor has he lost admiration for his students.
“I think students are as bright and as intelligent as ever, and it is always fun to see them grow and learn the nuts and bolts of how to write a story, take a photograph, put together a weekly miracle; which is what the newspaper is, a weekly miracle,” said Jackson.
As next year’s transition nears, Jackson is excited about the prospects for The Falcon. Which will now be under the advising of SPU professor of communications — and friend of Jackson — Dr. Peg Achterman. He greatly admires Achterman, and was excited when she finally joined him in teaching at SPU five years ago.
“Rick really admires her journalism and her ethics as a journalist, and she’s a good friend, … she understands Rick,” Mrs. Jackson said.
When asked what advice he would leave his students, who rely on his insight, he thought for a long moment. When he had decided, it was a clear message that perfectly encapsulated his many lessons and encouragements over the years.
“Don’t be afraid. Be brave in whatever you do. I’ll leave it at that.”