Back to Their Roots

SJMC alumni and brothers Steve and Greg Gordon share their memories of Murphy Hall

gordon_familySM.jpgGrowing up in Albert Lea, Minn., Steve (B.A.'70) and Greg (B.A.'73) Gordon seemed to be surrounded by writers and writing. Their mother, Maureen (or "Skippy," as she was affectionately called) and father, Bert, a small-business owner, both loved to write and encouraged their sons' passion for writing. Not to mention, at one time in their small-town neighborhood, there were three kids living within two blocks of each other who would later work for the Star Tribune: Neal Gendler, Karen Winegar and Greg.
By Jen Keavy

gordon_family.jpgThe Gordon family in the late 1970s. From left to right: Steve; his wife, Nancy and daughter Lindsey; Greg with the family poodle; Jeff (who also wrote for the Minnesota Daily); mother, Maureen and father, Bert.

Being a journalist was what Steve dreamed of, and he says that in high school, and even in junior high school, he thought he was going to be the next Pulitzer Prize winner. "The ironic thing," he says, "is that Greg is the one who has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize."

As a budding journalist, Steve was a writer and editor for the Albert Lea High School newspaper as well as a part-time sports writer for the Albert Lea Tribune. When he came to the University of Minnesota in 1966, he continued writing at The Minnesota Daily. But Steve says, by his sophomore year, something changed: "I discovered advertising. I found that I got a bigger kick out of the creative part and the selling part, if you will, understanding consumers and what they were interested in." He abandoned his reporter gig and took a job with the Daily selling ads--and loved it, later becoming the production manager as well as the advertising manager for the paper.

Younger brother Greg says he always wanted to be a journalist and is certain his brother and father influenced that desire. "My mother claims I was putting out a penny newspaper as a kid," he says. Growing up in the Gordon household, Greg says, he always looked up to Steve and "followed his shadow" all the way up until his sophomore year of college. He also wrote and served as sports editor for the high school newspaper and took over as the part-time sports writer for the Albert Lea Tribune when Steve left to go to the University.

There was an unspoken rivalry between the brothers, which was even encouraged by their father. Despite that, each of them set his own path down the road to success. As Greg puts it, "Steve showed me that, as a small-town kid from Albert Lea, I could go out and accomplish things, make a mark and have an impact on the world in some way."

From Albert Lea to Minneapolis and beyond

gordonbros.jpgAll four Gordon brothers, from left to right: Steve, Greg, Jeff and Scott.

When Steve graduated from the J-school in 1970, the job market was tough. After being offered a position with a local advertising agency--at a salary that was less than what he made at the Daily-- Steve decided to start graduate course work at the University and continued to work at The Minnesota Daily. As an undergraduate and graduate student, he says, "I had an office in the Murphy Hall basement for four years--I lived there!" And during that time, Steve says, many well-known University alums like Garrison Keillor, Dave Mona, Tom Gjelten and Marshall Tanick roamed the halls.

In 1972, Steve went to work as an account trainee for Campbell Mithun, where his first account was Northwest Airlines and his supervisor was Earl Herzog, who is now an SJMC adjunct instructor. Over the next 38 years, he worked his way up through the ranks at Campbell Mithun and today is a senior vice president and management supervisor, overseeing accounts for Hefty, Syngenta Seeds and Toro. Throughout his career, he's worked on iconic campaigns such as Where's the Cream Filling? for Hostess snack cakes, Oh, Those Golden Grahams for Golden Grahams cereal and Count on It for Toro lawn mowers and snow throwers. "What drew me into this profession," he says, "was the opportunity to put together messages that people would find interesting and engaging and actually remember when they are making purchasing decisions."

On a recent campaign for Hefty, Steve and his team utilized the popularity of ringtones to help drive product recognition. Using the Web site Myxer.com, the team uploaded the legendary "Hefty! Hefty! Hefty!" chant as a ringtone and made it available free for download. Over the course of a month, more than 65,000 people downloaded it. "For every one of those 65,000 people who downloaded the ringtone," he says, "let's say their phone rings 10 times a day and five times within earshot of someone. ... Those are impressions."

Steve has been recognized with numerous awards for his accomplishments. In 1998, when he was management supervisor of the Interstate Bakeries account, the Hostess commercial "Raccoon" was awarded Best of Show and Best Snack Food Commercial at the Golden Marble Awards, which honor the best in children's advertising. Over the past two years, his work with the Syngenta Seeds account has won numerous National Agri-Marketing Association awards. The Unconvention campaign (broadcast during the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn.), on which he served as account leader, won a 2009 One Show Silver Pencil Award in the Public Service/Political/Educational Television category, from the New York Art Directors Club. His contributions to the ALS Association were recognized in 2007 with the organization's President's Award, which has been presented only twice in the association's history. The following year, the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Minnesota honored him with its Alumni of Notable Achievement Award.

Meanwhile, Greg kept his focus on journalism. While completing his degree, Greg worked for United Press International (UPI), covering the Minnesota Legislature. After graduation in 1973, he took a job with UPI in Chicago, where, he says, he really began to hone his skills as a journalist: "I had a great grooming there from a nearly retired journalist. I really started to get my sea legs about what it meant to be a reporter." While there, he co-authored "Chicago: Evolution of a Ghetto," a 15,000-word series exposing racial bias in real estate dealings and failures in government mortgage programs as causes of dramatic racial shifts in one of the city's neighborhoods. The series prompted state and federal investigations into discriminatory housing practices and led to a 10-year federal court battle over the alleged role of U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and Veterans Administration programs in re-segregating urban neighborhoods.

The exposé about housing discrimination on Chicago's Southwest Side catapulted Greg to a position with UPI in Washington, D.C., where he soon was assigned to cover the U.S. Department of Justice. In 1981, he was named the bureau's investigative reporter and later headed up the national investigative team, winning the 1984 Raymond Clapper Award from the Scripps Howard Foundation for coverage of the Environmental Protection Agency's cozy ties with industry under then-administrator Anne M. Gorsuch. During his tenure, he wrote investigative series about congressional overseas travel, defense procurement and the safety and federal approval of the artificial sweetener NutraSweet.

gordons.jpgFrom left to right:
Greg Gordon, investigative reporter, McClatchy;
Steve Gordon, senior vice president and management supervisor, Campbell Mithun

In 1985, Greg was asked by his editors to cover UPI's ongoing organizational and financial crisis. Over the course of a year, he wrote about 100 stories detailing the company's decline. Soon after, he and UPI's managing editor Ronald E. Cohen began work on the book "Down to the Wire," which chronicles the company's financial collapse. In 1989, after refusing to provide UPI's management with a copy of the book's manuscript, he was fired after 18 years with the company. The dismissal made news headlines and drew criticism coast to coast. In 1990, he and Cohen won Sigma Delta Chi's gold medal for the book, which was published by McGraw-Hill.

More recently, in his role as an investigative reporter for McClatchy, Greg revealed partisanship in the U.S. Department of Justice and gaps in U.S. homeland security. In 2008, he, along with two of his colleagues, won a McClatchy President's Award and the Scripps Howard Foundation's Raymond Clapper Award for Washington Reporting for exposing the Bush administration's politically charged dismissal of seven U.S. attorneys in 2006. Late last year, his five-month investigation exposed how Goldman Sachs sold off nearly $50 billion in securities backed by risky home mortgages while secretly gambling that a sharp drop in U.S. housing prices would cause the securities' value to nosedive.

Reflections of Murphy Hall

murphyhall.jpgMurphy Hall

Although the brothers took divergent paths after completing their journalism education, they share similar views about their time in Murphy Hall. "I had some really good mentors, like Virginia Harris, Walt Brovald, Jack Mark and Jan Robbins," says Steve."Virginia Harris' copywriting course really got me excited about writing." His creative courses with professor Harris and his hands-on experience in advertising sales and management at The Minnesota Daily were instrumental in preparing him for the real-world experience of working at an advertising agency, he says.

Greg says he has fond memories of Murphy Hall. Like his brother, Greg says The Minnesota Daily played an important role in his journalistic training. "The biggest thing for me was my work at the Daily," he says. "So much of journalism is a learned skill." Being a student on campus in the early 1970s as the anti-Vietnam War movement intensified made an impact on Greg. "As protests became more frequent and the size of the Daily's sports section really shrunk," he says, "I felt like what I was doing was kind of irrelevant. ... Even then, I had in my mind that I wanted to do stuff that would have real impact."

Among Greg's other memories are courses with J-school legends like Ed Emery, Don Gillmor, George Hage and Phil Tichenor as well as in-class writing assignments on what Greg calls "cranky old Royal typewriters." He specifically mentions his media law classes with professor Gillmor, which he says were invaluable. "Gillmor planted those first seeds about all of these perils that we journalists have to know about ... to protect ourselves from the traps that can bury you and destroy your career.

"Without any question, Murphy Hall in so many ways got me where I am today."

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This page contains a single entry by cla published on April 2, 2010 4:17 PM.

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