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Jim Thistle, Director of Broadcast Journalism, Dies at 66

Boston journalism legend remembered as great teacher and mentor for nearly three decades

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Jim Thistle was known for teaching the highest standards of journalism. Photo by Vernon Doucette

Jim Thistle, director of the College of Communication’s broadcast journalism program and a professor of journalism, died Tuesday, July 29, at Beth Israel Hospital, after a yearlong battle with throat cancer. He was 66 years old.

Remembered as a Boston journalism legend and a television news pioneer, Thistle (COM’64) served as news director for all three of Boston’s major network affiliates: WBZ-TV (Channel 4), WCVB-TV (Channel 5), and WHDH-TV (Channel 7). He began his career at WBZ, moved to WCVB for eight years, and spent three years at WHDH before joining the faculty of Boston University’s College of Communication in 1980, where in addition to directing the broadcast journalism program, he also had been chair of the journalism department. Thistle was a lifelong resident of Everett, Mass.

“Jim represented all that was good in journalism education and the news industry,” says Tom Fiedler (COM’71), dean of the College of Communication. “He was a great teacher and mentor to his students during his nearly three decades as a professor teaching broadcast journalism and ultimately as the chair of that program. Boston University’s College of Communication is saddened by his passing.”

Fiedler says Thistle was “always available at any time to advise students and graduates, guiding them as they progressed in their careers. Even as he struggled with his illness, he continued to be a mentor, answering e-mails and making phone calls. He will be greatly missed by his students, colleagues, and the many alumni inspired by his love of teaching and the craft of journalism.”

Tobe Berkovitz, associate dean and an associate professor of journalism, describes Thistle as the most respected man in Boston broadcast journalism and one of the finest teachers at BU and at COM. “He was a teacher and mentor to a generation of BU students and journalists,” says Berkovitz. “He had great values and believed in the traditions that are the foundations for good journalism.”

Known as a staunch believer in hands-on learning, Thistle always made it a point to get his students out of the classroom and into the action, says Susan Walker, an associate professor of journalism at COM, who also worked with Thistle at WCVB and WHDH. “Each presidential-election year, he would take busloads of BU students up to New Hampshire to cover the primaries, just as an exercise,” she recalls.

“He was the best boss anyone could ever work for,” Walker continues. “I don’t think it’s any exaggeration to say that most broadcast journalists in Boston owe their careers to him, in one way or another. He was responsible for teaching and maintaining the highest of standards in training tomorrow’s broadcast journalists.”

“He always strived to do the best for the news and for the people who worked for him,” says Sasha Norkin, a COM associate professor of journalism, who previously worked with Thistle at WHDH. “Despite the pressures of business, he held to the highest ideals and covered the news in the best way possible. He stood for what was right, no matter what.”

The Thistle family requests that donations be made to the Jacobson-Thistle Scholarship Fund, which was created to honor Thistle and his longtime colleague at WCVB-TV, Natalie Jacobson. The fund annually provides two awards to COM students majoring in broadcast journalism. Donations can be mailed to the Jacobson-Thistle Scholarship Fund, Boston University College of Communication, 640 Commonwealth Ave., Boston, MA 02215.

A wake has been scheduled for Thursday at the Ernest P. Caggiano & Son Funeral Home, 147 Winthrop St., Winthrop, Mass. A funeral will be held Friday at 11 a.m. at the Immaculate Conception Church, 489 Broadway, Everett.

Vicky Waltz can be reached at vwaltz@bu.edu.

14 Comments

14 Comments on Jim Thistle, Director of Broadcast Journalism, Dies at 66

  • Erica Manczuk on 07.30.2008 at 12:52 pm

    Professor Thistle was one of my most favorite professors during my time at BU. I learned so much about journalism from him and enjoyed being a part of his classes. I am sadded to hear of his passing and my thoughts and prayers go out to all his family and friends.

  • Corinne Kator (COM '06) on 07.30.2008 at 5:01 pm

    A great professor

    When I heard on WBUR last night that Jim Thistle had died, I had to turn off the radio for a moment to let the news sink in. I had Prof. Thistle for just one class (Broadcast News for Non-majors), but I’ll always remember him as one of my favorite professors at BU. He was so enthusiastic and encouraging, and the way he orchestrated a newscast was like magic. How lucky I am to have learned from him while he was still here.

  • Mark Fontecchio on 07.31.2008 at 2:21 pm

    Great professor

    Like a previous poster, I only had Prof. Thistle for one class, broadcast journalism for non-majors. It sits alongside classes with Klarfeld and Zelnick as my favorites. During the class in which I had to be an anchor, I was kind of slumping over the desk. Thistle yelled out, “Sit up, you’re not at a poker game.” That got me laughing, and got me sitting straight up, too.

  • Adam on 07.31.2008 at 2:45 pm

    An inspiring professor

    Prof. Thistle was the hardest working professor I had. He had an intense desire not just to teach, but also for his students to learn. He celebrated our successes and brought out the best in us. His class was the highlight of my COM education.

  • Anonymous on 07.31.2008 at 2:59 pm

    He made time for those who needed him

    Years after I graduated, I was struggling with my journalism career and unsure if I had chosen the right profession. Prof. Thistle not only remembered me (though he had not had me as a student in more than 5 years) but closed the door to his office and talked me through my professional crisis, giving me the the pep talk I needed. I continued in journalism, and now 10 years later, that talk is still one of the most important I have ever had.

  • Tony Verdi on 07.31.2008 at 2:59 pm

    A Kind Man...

    I was a student of Prof. Thistle in 1992. I have fond memories of working with him at BU and learning what the news biz was all about. Prof. Thistle was a wealth of knowledge and eager to have his students be the best. At the same time, he was a kind man who was interested in students’ lives away from the newsroom. And he had a great big SMILE all day long! I feel so honored to have been in his company at BU. My thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends.

  • John M. on 07.31.2008 at 3:32 pm

    God Bless

    God bless you, Mr. Thistle. You were a great teacher. You will be missed. You were one of the greats in journalism. And teaching…

  • Anonymous on 07.31.2008 at 5:13 pm

    I work with Jim at Boston University. He was a real pro and I consider myself fortunate to have worked with and known Jim.

  • Anonymous on 07.31.2008 at 6:12 pm

    Huge loss

    Prof. Thistle was the first person I met when I interviewed for the BU broadcast journalism graduate school program 12 years ago. He was the one who convinced me to attend Boston University. It turned out to be a wonderful hands-on education. And when I wasn’t exerting myself as much as I should have in class, he always pushed me to try harder. He showed me integrity and the value of hard work in the profession. Without his input, I doubt I would have made it to the network level. I am saddened by his death, but I know his family will take great pride in knowing how many journalists Prof. Thistle helped and the impact he had on the profession.

  • Anonymous on 07.31.2008 at 7:35 pm

    The Best Professor

    I took several courses with Jim Thistle, and I can honestly say that he was the best professor I have ever had. His genuine concern for the budding journalism careers of his students, his tireless efforts to support us both in and out of the classroom, and his uncompromising sense of integrity made him a role model for us all. He will be sorely missed.

  • Anonymous on 07.31.2008 at 8:16 pm

    Jim Thistle is Broadcast Journalism

    I was in Jim Thistle’s Broadcast Journalism class when he first started teaching at BU in the early ’80s. He was working at WCVB during the day and came over to BU for evening classes. One day, he took us to ‘CVB to see the last of the film-chain equipment be removed, making way for videotape machines. I remember his energy and excitement that day. We’re moving into a new era in news-gathering, he told us. We were all caught up in his passion for journalism – and it was exhilarating! He taught us a disciplined work ethic that I still strive to maintain today. And, he taught us how to write! – - –
    I am truly saddened to learn of Jim’s death. I did not know he was battling cancer and took for granted that he’d be around when I would finally get around to expressing my appreciation for all that he taught me – a mistake too commonly made. So, to Jim’s family and friends, please accept my family’s prayers and sympathies. I hope you find some peace in knowing that Jim Thistle’s impact on this world was truly significant – and that he lives on in so many of us who were fortunate enough to be his students.

  • Anonymous on 07.31.2008 at 9:38 pm

    Prof Thistle

    I’m a 1992 COM grad and I have often thought about Jim Thistle throughout my career. He was a kind hearted soul who always made class challenging, interesting and relevant. My hopes and prayers are wtih his family. He was a great man and mentor.

  • S. Padre on 07.31.2008 at 11:31 pm

    Great professor, adviser

    I was majoring in broadcast journalism at COM and had Prof. Thistle for one class. I was in awe of him because he was one of Boston’s great broadcasters and had worked for all of the major stations and knew all of the on-air personalities. I loved his “war stories” from his career. So who was I, I thought, but a student with no experience in one of his classes after he had worked with so many great and prominent professionals already in his career and was a legend already himself? But I remember how he gave me personal attention, even though we didn’t get to know each other very well. While in his class, I believe, I wasn’t happy with my academic adviser, so I asked if he would be my adviser. We met only once or twice then, but I remember he was understanding and granted me permission to take a class on the history of the Great Depression and let it be counted toward my concentration in economics (he heard my argument and granted this bit of an exception for me). He steered me toward a couple of good internship possibilities. And another time in his class, my partner on a project had disappeared with no explanation over a weekend that we had planned to work on the project. I had to do it alone, and the camera I used malfunctioned. Again, Prof. Thistle was understanding when I returned to the classroom the next week and tried to salvage something from my project (which was pretty disastrous!). I recall getting an A in the class still! Thanks for your kindness, Prof. Thistle!

  • Anonymous on 08.01.2008 at 1:18 pm

    Years Of Giving .... Thistle Brightened So Many Lives!

    Extending my Warmest Thoughts to Professor Thistle’s Family and Friends ….

    It was such an honor to have been in Professor Thistle’s Class. He was such an inspiring professor and truly passionate and giving to his students. He was an amazing professor! He was always available to his students and would extend himself in any way that he could to help us in the world of broadcast news.

    But, mostly what I loved the most about Professor Thistle was his warm smile and his Go Get Em attitude!

    You will be Greatly Missed!

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