Over the holidays, former journalism school director Michael Cobden passed away at the age of 77. Cobden oversaw the j-school through a time of transition, helping integrate audio and radio into the journalism curriculum.
But Cobden was also instrumental to the founding of The Watch in 1989. Without him, it’s likely the magazine wouldn’t be where it is today.
Bruce Geddes, a founding editor, e-mailed The Watch executive after news of Cobden’s passing.
Geddes says he came up with the idea of the magazine because he saw a demand for it in the King’s community and it would give a platform for students to get a byline in a publication.
He approached Cobden with the idea.
Other than a sum of about $1,000 from the university president, “we had no money whatsoever and no understanding of how to put a newspaper together in a more official way,” Geddes said.
“He could have easily said ‘No’ — no one would’ve blamed him — and The Watch might not exist today without him.
“Personal computers were still pretty rare in ‘89, not everybody had one. And so (Cobden) allowed us to use their Macs and their printing facilities.”
Geddes added that the magazine was also put in touch with people who could help with production.
“Because he allowed us to use the equipment, the paper could actually look like a real paper, instead of a typewritten thing, on linear graph sheets, put through a Xerox.”
That being said, according to Geddes, The Watch’s beginning was met with some animosity from other journalism students. The magazine took time away from resources that journalism students’ were paying to use and, at the time, The Watch was comprised of students not in the journalism faculty — Geddes being one of them.
“I’m sure he got pushback from other people in the department,” Geddes said. “But he still supported The Watch.
Outside of that setting, Geddes didn’t know Michael Cobden well enough to speak about him as a person and doesn’t want to “make shit up.” However, Tim Currie, the current j-school director was a former student of Cobden’s.
Currie says he remembers Cobden being an excellent editor, forthright (in some ways) and really enjoying working with students.
“He had high standards and really pushed his students to meet those high standards,” Currie said. “He would tell you if he didn’t think you put the work into something.
“Working through stories with him was a pleasure; he always had an anecdote to bring from his past.”
Currie also said Cobden was quirky, with a dry and lively sense of humour. Though Currie couldn’t think of a particular anecdote, he says Cobden “always had a smile on his face and brought a sense of humour to everything he did.”
In an attempt to learn what Michael Cobden was like on a more personal level, outside of the j-school, I reached out to his wife, Jane, to interview her for this piece. Unfortunately, we ended up playing voicemail-tag and couldn’t talk.
The Watch expresses our deepest condolences to Jane and their children, Josh, Joe and Daisy.