RIP Mike Fowler

Reading the Mike Fowler obit in the Miami Herald was http://www.miamiherald.com/511/story/1229659.html saddening and heartbreaking. In an email circulating on Facebook among Fowler’s former students in Egypt, many described in detail his impact on their lives, their careers and their view of and approach to journalism and media.

Fowler, or Michael Owen Fowler, taught reporting/writing and media ethics and law at the American University in Cairo. Many of his students, me included, still remember discussions we had with him on the line between the legality and the morality of the profession, the difference between what’s ethical and what’s legal.

A staunch defender of copyrights (at a time when the word was still an ambiguous term and before AUC established its strict anti-plagiarism rules), he was our go-to man at the student paper whenever we wrote a story about copyrights. I remember the editor of the paper telling a reporter to go ask him a few questions about the issue and take a photo half way through the interview. A picture of him waving his hands in the air in the middle of a heated discussion provided interesting visual for what would have been a visually-boring story. But it also conveyed his devotion to issues he was passionate about.

He spoke to us of his dismay with the commercialization of journalism, something he said partially pushed him to go back to school to study law. And in Egypt, we benefited from his experiences in both professions: journalism and law.

He was the first professor I met at the mass communications and journalism department of AUC. I kept postponing the required course of media ethics and law until I found an opening at the class he taught. And even before I took the class, I was always running to his office for advice. Our discussions on how long/hard a reporter should pursue sources to get their response to allegations made against them before publishing a controversial story guide my decisions as a journalist to this very day.

Many of my former classmates have similar stories.

I’m sure many of his students around the world have similar stories too, because Egypt was only one stop in his journey. He trained journalists in all continents, starting from the US and going through India, Bulgaria, Rwanda, Afghanistan, and Cambodia.

The obit in the Miami Herald, which Fowler worked for at one point in his career, quoted Miami political consultant Keith Donner as saying, “Mike was this mixture of Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway and Graham Greene … He was a tall, hulking guy — about 6-foot-5 — with a great wit and tremendous intellect.

“He was the coolest guy in a very cool profession.”

We all knew that. And that why it was saddening to realize that many of us hadn’t spoken to Fowler since he left AUC. We only knew about his death over a month later. We lost touch with him even though we are aware of his impact on our lives. We never got a chance, or rather didn’t give ourselves the chance, to go back and thank him.

There are many professors that had a great impact on my life, some I don’t know even how to reach now. It’s not like I’m doing a great job staying in touch with those who still live in Egypt. But to all of them, if you stumble on this post one day: Thank you and sorry if I don’t get a chance to tell you how much I appreciate the knowledge and advice you passed on to me.

— Fowler is survived by his wife, journalist Susan Postlewaite, and his daughter Kim. My condolences to both of them.

Unfortunately I don’t have any pictures of Fowler, but here’s a link to one I found online:  http://knight.icfj.org/Portals/0/Blog/Files/1447/8880/fowler%20and%20chumno.jpg

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    • Susan Postlewaite
    • March 2nd, 2011

    Hey Sirgo’s Labyrinth, thank you for a beautiful commentary. It’s a year and a half now, and just getting to answer some of the lovely columns written for Mike. Susan Postlewaite (Fowler)

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