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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Prof. Joe Mathewson brings expertise, humor to his 26 years at Medill

Illustration by Lily Ogburn
Medill Prof. Joe Mathewson is the author of five books.

Joe Mathewson has lived many lives in his 90 years. He’s been a Naval engineer officer, a Cook County commissioner, a Supreme Court correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, a lawyer, an author, a press secretary and a Congressional candidate — among other things. He’s now a professor at the Medill School of Journalism, where he’s been teaching for 26 years.

Mathewson started his career at Medill in the Chicago Newsroom teaching business reporting to graduate students. Now, he teaches “Journalism 370: Media Law and Ethics” to undergrads.

“I just loved it right from the start,” Mathewson said. “I loved being back in a newsroom with people who are bright and anxious to learn and do well.”

Mathewson spent his time at the Wall Street Journal covering business, politics and the Supreme Court. He said he had a “marvelous experience” covering the court led by Chief Justice Earl Warren, famous for delivering the decision that led to the “Miranda warning.”

Mathewson said his journalistic career has taught him the importance of accuracy and responsibility — much like his career in the Navy.

“As a military officer, you are responsible for your own work and for the work of others that you’re supposed to be supervising and managing,” Mathewson said. “And what do you know, in journalism, you’re responsible. You try very hard to get it right, and if you don’t, you need to post a correction.”

Mathewson has been a businessperson and a business reporter, as well as a lawyer and a legal reporter. He said his expertise in these fields help him fulfill the old adage of “write what you know.”

Mathewson said his interest in law grew from reading legal briefs in his Supreme Court reporting. He put himself through law school at the University of Chicago while working part-time in media relations for the Illinois attorney general.

“I did practice law for a few years, and it was interesting, but it’s not as much fun as journalism,” Mathewson said.

In the classroom, Mathewson makes a point of getting to know his students on a personal level. Now, he brings former students into his class to speak about their careers in the journalism industry. Some of them come back every single quarter, Mathewson said.

Medill Dean Charles Whitaker said Mathewson will take any chance he gets to talk to students about “the joys of being in journalism.”

“There’s a roster of professionals who will tell you that they owe their careers as business reporters to Joe and Joe’s class,” Whitaker said.

Medill senior Caroline Neal, who took Mathewson’s class during Spring Quarter 2023, said she appreciated that Mathewson made a point of having individual conferences with each of his students.

Neal said this practice helped her to get to know her professor both in and out of the classroom.

“Every day that I went to class, he still seemed so excited to be teaching it even though he has been for so long,” Neal said.

She said Mathewson’s guest speakers seemed to still have a connection with him years after leaving his class. If Mathewson ever invites her to come back and speak, she said her answer would be ‘yes’.

Medill Prof. Michael Deas, who has known Mathewson for 17 years, said he considers Mathewson a mentor. He said he admires Mathewson’s integrity and charity.

“He has a sense of humor,” Deas said. “I think he enjoys razzing me about not wearing a tie.”

Deas said Mathewson is also a “rather dapper” man — he can often be seen around campus dressed in one of his signature red sweaters.

Observing Mathewson’s career at Medill has caused Deas to rethink his retirement, he said. After working with Mathewson, Deas said he can see himself working well into his 70s.

“I consider Professor Mathewson to be a renaissance man — I always have,” Deas said. “And even to this day, he’s still sharp as a tack.”

Whitaker said Mathewson is living proof that if you love what you do, you never work a day in your life.

“He certainly is an example of how loving what you do contributes to your own longevity,” Whitaker said. “And he absolutely loves what he does.”

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