One drink with retiring journalism professor Mary Hausch

Mary Hausch, a former managing editor at the Review Journal and retired UNLV associate professor, has a drink at Carson Kitchen, 124 S 6th St., in downtown Las Vegas Tuesday, July 19, 2016.
Photo: Steve Marcus

A while back Weekly decided to shake up the Q&A format by launching our One Drink With series, in which we chat with fascinating Las Vegans about their colorful lives over cocktails at one of their favorite haunts, instead of highlighting only high-profile subjects with timely stories to share. Our second interviewee somewhat straddles those lines. Recently retired UNLV journalism professor Mary Hausch is certainly a name to know in Las Vegas, be it for the generation of journalists she sent out into the field (including a recent Pulitzer Prize winner); her historical preservation work with the City of Las Vegas; TV appearances and interviews where she weighs in on local issues (including a recent discussion with Jon Ralston on the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s sale to Sheldon Adelson, drawing on her experience as a former managing editor of the newspaper); or her husband, City Councilman Bob Coffin.

But what makes this installment personal is the relationship Hausch has with the reporter interviewing her. I first met Mary—never Professor Hausch—in a UNLV classroom just under a decade ago, when she taught me the ins and outs of journalism through her courses in Advanced Reporting and Interviewing. With her retirement fresh and local journalism in the headlines, my mentor was a natural fit for an interview. Mary chose Downtown's Carson Kitchen for a glass of white wine while I went for a local brew.

This is One Drink With Mary Hausch. Or two drinks with! We don’t know.

Cheers! You mentioned you’re vacationing soon. Where to? We’re going to Alaska. I’ve always wanted to go on a cruise and I’ve always wanted to go to Alaska, so we’re combining them together into one trip. I do not have a bucket list; I hate the idea of a bucket list. That, to me, sounds like you’re dying, and I’m not dying. It’s just something that I want to do.

Too many people are saying, ‘What’s your bucket list?’ and I thought it sounds like something you only do when you have 10 years left. People are talking about ‘reflecting on your life’ … There’s longevity genes in my family and I’m not even 70 yet, so I’m thinking I have more than 10 minutes left to live. But I am reflecting on my life, because I’m cleaning out 25 years of junk from UNLV and I’m also realizing that 25 years is only a minute in my life. It wasn’t my whole life. And while I think it was significant, I’m maybe prouder of other things I did in my life, other than the UNLV chapter.

What would those be? I was raised in a Republican family that’s very conservative, [and] I went to a school, Ohio University, that’s very liberal, during the Vietnam War, and that altered me. I learned feminism and it kind of radicalized me. So, I was pro-ERA and I was for those things … I was a founding member of Planned Parenthood in Las Vegas. I was on the original Planned Parenthood board. … I’m very proud of that. I helped get the legislation passed to bring a displaced homemakers center to Las Vegas, and I didn’t even know what that was when we set out to do that. I’m really proud of the things that I did to help women in this community.

I don’t think I’ve officially interviewed you since my final exam for your interviewing class at UNLV. Which was so long ago. I remember, because you’re not nearly as young as you once were.

Did I do well? Yes, I think you did do well, if I recall correctly. But by the way, I’ve saved my grade books—I don’t know why—but I could look up how you did.

You just retired. I know you were offered a year’s salary to retire earlier than expected, but what was your actual motive to take the deal? Well, I didn’t really want to [retire]. I planned to stay a year or two more, because my husband’s on the [Las Vegas] City Council and he has three more years in this term. He can run for one more term—I don’t know if he will or not—so I planned to stay a couple more years, and out of nowhere last December the provost offered me a year’s salary to leave. And who could resist that? I might’ve left another year anyhow—I’m 66 years old—so I said it was too good to pass up [and] I took it. And now I’m gone. I’m Gone Girl.

You’ve helped a generation of journalists land jobs. I’ve always enjoyed the fact that I can tell people you helped shape me as a journalist. Who will fill your shoes? Who will mentor the next generation of UNLV journalists? The sad thing is that not only did I leave, but a woman named Nancy Weaver left at the same time. And she was to public relations what I was to journalism. And so in my mind there’s a huge void there right now, and it breaks my heart. And a goal of mine when I came there was that the school would be accredited, and in the 25 years that I was there that never happened.

It was so close, too. We were really close, and then the recession hit and they had to pull back. But that’s something that the school in Reno has and it’s a bragging thing for them, and UNLV doesn’t have it and I hope UNLV will go for it. I think the UNLV school is at a low point right now, but sometimes you rise up from the ashes and you’re better than ever, and I hope that [happens] for the UNLV school.

Even without the accreditation, you had us writing and working for local publications and stressed the importance of utilizing the skills we were learning while still in school. You helped us get jobs. They’re going to get new leadership in the school, and I’m hoping whoever leads the school going forward will realize that you have to have some practitioners teaching, that you can’t really have people with PhDs teaching people skills. You really need people who have been in the trenches teaching those classes. And so I hope they have a balance in the program.

You taught my former classmate and 2015 Pulitzer Prize winner Hannah Birch. Who are you most proud of? I can’t really single anybody out. Hannah Birch won a Pulitzer Prize, and that was a goal of mine—that somebody would win that, and I think some other people are close. Lawrence Mower, down in Florida, I think he’s going to win a Pulitzer sometime. But I’m proud of a lot of people, a lot of people doing daily journalism in Las Vegas, so you don’t have to win a big prize to be a good journalist. People doing regular, in-and-out, daily journalism can be superstars in my mind.

Considering your Media Ethics class I took my senior year at UNLV, I’m curious about your thoughts on Sheldon Adelson’s purchase of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. It presents a ton of challenges, but there are always conflict-of-interest challenges. I worked at the R-J when another super millionaire, Don Reynolds, owned it, and he presented a lot of conflicts of interest and he influenced the editorial policies and the coverage, too—I would be lying if I pretended he didn’t. There’s no purity in what goes in, and some good things are happening [there]. I think we have to look at the positives as well as the negatives. They definitely got off on the wrong foot—why he didn’t admit he owned it, I don’t know; I can’t comprehend that or understand it. I just always hope for the best, because this is where a lot of local graduates are going to practice journalism.

A lot of the goings-on of that newsroom have been quite public, with employees tweeting their exits and Periscoping staff meetings. What do you think about that kind of transparancy? I think on some levels, for me, it troubles me. The last week something came out where they’re encouraged to rat each other out. The last couple of days Jon Ralston reported [that] they’re encouraging people, if you see one of your coworkers on social media or something badmouthing the company, to report them. And I don’t like that tattletale mentality at all. … I hope there would be a camaraderie among people working there; that they wouldn’t do that.

Are you still involved with the City of Las Vegas’ historical preservation efforts? I still am, and I still live in the only historical district Downtown [the John S. Park neighborhood}.

Living there takes a lot of work, namely maintaining your home to the precise requirements. Why is the work worth it? I have a real sense of history. I’ve only lived here since 1971, so I’m still a relative newcomer and I’ve only lived downtown for 28 years, but I love that I live in a house that’s as old as I am.

You live there with your husband, Councilman Bob Coffin. What’s it like rubbing elbows with the sort of high-profile people you used to cover as a journalist? I’ve always been a reporter at heart; I’ve never stopped being a journalist. I still ask people questions all the time. In fact, when Bob and I go out to dinner with people he’s been known to kick me under the table, because I keep asking questions. I’m inquisitive and I want to know stuff.

You’ve been here a long time and have seen the community grow, so that only makes sense. What made you stay? I moved here in 1971 planning to stay only two years. I moved here from Colorado and I wanted to get enough experience to go work for the Denver Post, and for a long time I said to my husband, ‘You know, any day [now] I’m going to the Denver Post, and I throw that out occasionally now—‘I think I have enough experience to go to the Denver Post.' I fell in love, and not just with a person, but with the community. Home means Nevada, I guess.

So what are you planning to do in retirement? I’m taking the summer off, which is what teachers always do, and I think when my friends go back to school in the fall that’s when it's going to hit me.

I don’t need to work anymore. People talk to me about paid jobs, but I’m going to find a place to volunteer. I’ve been very involved with HELP of Southern Nevada and I keep seeing places I might want to volunteer. There’s a story in the paper about the graduation at a women’s prison, and I thought I think I’d like to volunteer there. … I can just show up one day and say, ‘Hey, I have teaching skills. Can I teach here?’ And see if they invite me in or lock me up, don’t know. I’ve got this real feminist streak in me; I like to help women. So I’m looking around for places that I can help women.

What do you want your legacy to be at UNLV? I don’t know if I want my legacy to be UNLV, except my graduates who are out in the world. They already are making me proud and doing great things. … I think I’ve got another good 20 years in me and I want to do good things in the community, and so maybe it’ll be at the women’s prison, maybe it’ll be in the displaced homemaker program or maybe it’ll be HELP, [which] also has a center for homeless teens and I would maybe like to be involved with that and mentor them. My business card has the word mentor, and I consider myself a mentor, and I would like to mentor people, whether they want me to or not.

What’s your advice for the next generation of journalists? To be ready for change. To not think that journalism has to be one way or one thing. I had so many students who [said] they’re going to be print reporters, and I practically laugh at them. I say, "Do you subscribe to a newspaper? When’s the last time you read a newspaper?" and they say "I read it on my phone." I say "You want to work for a newspaper but you don’t read a newspaper?" You have to adapt to how [journalism] is changing and be part of the change. Maybe you’re going to be a blogger, maybe you’re going to be a part of journalism we don’t even have a word for yet. Bet whatever you do, be ethical. That’s really important.

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