Remembering Rick: My journalism life coach

Rick looks over my shoulder as I show him the website we were live blogging on for President Obama's campaign stop at the Living History Farm in Des Moines.
Rick looks over my shoulder as I show him the website we were live blogging on for President Obama’s campaign stop at the Living History Farm in Des Moines.

I think it’s fitting that I spent today in the newsroom, that’s how Rick would have wanted it. Especially since I spent the day at his former paper.

Richard Tapscott was a lot of things. The quintessential journalism professor. A man of few words. A man of many words. Professor. Mentor. Colleague. Father. Grandfather.

I always called him my “Journalism Life Coach.” That is what he was to me. He was more than a professor. He encouraged me to go above and beyond what I thought my abilities were.

I remember sophomore year, as I took over the reigns of The Times-Delphic, we had a meeting. He knew I was under a ridiculous amount of stress. We talked about the article I was working on. How the paper was doing, and how I was doing. At the end of the conversation, he looked me straight in the eyes and said: “No, how are you really doing?” I burst into tears. I was sobbing in his office. He listened to me through the all of the gasps for air, and at the end of it, he just patted me on the back and said “You’ll be okay.” To this day, it’s a story I tell most incoming first-years if we talk about how stressful college is. I always joke: “It’s okay, at least you didn’t cry in front of the Pulitzers.”

He helped me through every imaginable situation I came across as the editor in chief of a college newspaper. He helped me through every issue I had as a reporter and as a student. He once told me during one of our many meetings, that I was being lazy. I wasn’t working to my potential. I was doing the bare minimum. He was right. He always knew what I needed to hear.

He was the professor that planted the seed in my mind to become a political reporter. He sat me down and asked “What do you want to do?” I don’t remember how  I responded, but I mentioned I thought politics were the most interesting part of our society and some day I’d like to cover Congress. We had that in common, we both loved to talk about politics. Most of our meetings ended with us talking about something related to that. I didn’t think he’d do much with that tidbit of information. I was wrong.

A short time after that we had a speaker come in. The speaker had covered the Mitt Romney 2012 presidential campaign. The speaker asked our class who was interested in politics. I nodded, not wanting to speak up. No one spoke up. Rick, in all of his tenacity and wisdom turns to the me and says: “Horsch, you like politics. Talk.” Typical Tapscott.

Rick cared about his students, about the future of journalism. He stayed curious about the changing world of journalism and even had me teach him how to work an iPod/iPhone one day when we were out covering a campaign stop for President Obama. He thought the concept of live blogging an event was a bit absurd, but he liked to watch us do it, and learn with us.

Curiosity ran deep in his soul. He always wanted to know what was going on in our lives. He kept a close eye on happenings around campus. More than once he dropped by The Times-Delphic and sat across from me in the editor’s office, like we were equals and talk about a potential story.

That was what was wonderful about having Rick as a professor. He treated you like an equal. He taught you as though you were writing for a paper. More than once he told me I was being “safe” with my reporting, I was just reaching toward the surface, I wasn’t diving deep.

Sometimes he was frustrating, but all journalism professors are. They want you to be the best. Rick was really good at never letting you know how much he liked a piece you wrote. He’d give you a compliment, then he’d rip your story apart. You’d leave his office confused, but that was his process. He wanted you to think about the story.

As I started my post-grad job hunt, I went down to his office, like many times before. This year was different though. I didn’t have any journalism classes, and this time, he asked me what I was doing and how I felt about journalism, especially after spending my summer in North Carolina. He wanted to know all about that. He urged me to go back. He told me if I wasn’t staying in Iowa, I’d need to go to the East Coast.

When I found out he had cancer, I didn’t really know how to react. The day before I had gone down to his office and left him a note. I was just offered an internship at The Des Moines Register, and I wanted to tell him about it. And the weekend before I found out about his cancer, I was told that my father also had cancer.

Worlds collide like that sometimes. I’m sad that he won’t be able to watch the Class of 2014 graduate. I’m sad that he won’t be around to help with our senior capstone. I’m sad that he won’t get to see more of his family or spend one more holiday with them. But, everything has to come to an end at some point, this blog post, especially. All I know is that he’d be upset about all the fuss around his death. He wouldn’t want us worrying about him, but in the end, we really care about him and his family.

I’m keeping him and his family in my thoughts through all of this. So, Rick, thank you for everything you’ve done for me and for all students of Drake University. You’ll be sincerely missed.

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  1. Lauren, this is a very touching depiction of my lifelong friend from earliest childhood, Rick Tapscott. From our days as paperboys for the Trenton Republican-Times, to our first journalism class as sophomores in high school, to the flat bed presses and woodcut photographs and the hot, molten lead of the linotype machine in the back room, Rick always wanted to be a newspaper man. And after a distinguished career, Rick paid it forward to you and to others at Drake University. He was a friend who will be sadly missed.

  2. Great blog, Lauren. Makes me feel as though I knew Rick. Really makes me wish I had. You’ll make him proud as you progress in your career. I can tell.

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