Roger Cohen, Rutgers Class of 1965 returns to The Banks

Roger Cohen speaking to the tailgate crowd. He served as J/MS department chair from 1996 to 2001, and during that time was instrumental in building J/MS into a major department. He was given the department’s first Lifetime Achievement Award on Nov. 10. Photo by Ron Miskoff

J/MS honors ex-chair with Lifetime Achievement Award

By Hector Bonilla—

If there’s one faculty member of the modern era who stands as the “godfather” of Rutgers journalism, it is Professor Emeritus Roger Cohen.

In November, Cohen, a resident of Monroe Township, received the Department of Journalism and Media Studies’ first Lifetime Achievement Award. This award, which can go to an alumnus, a faculty member or a friend of Rutgers Journalism, was started by SC&I Dean Jorge Schement, J/MS Chair Jack Bratich and J/MS Professor Steve Miller to help re-establish connections with Rutgers alumni.

The award was presented at the first J/MS Tailgate Reunion (see story on P. 1), which took place at the Rutgers-Army football game. “If there is somebody who would be the first recipient of this award, it would be Roger,” noted Miller.

“To many journalism majors, Roger Cohen IS Rutgers journalism,” Miller added.

Cohen said that when he received notice of the award, “It almost knocked me off my feet.”

At the award ceremony he told the crowd of more than 150, “I’m very happy and very proud. It’s all very exciting.”

Cohen graduated from Rutgers in 1965 with a degree in English. In his senior year Cohen joined the New Brunswick local radio station WCTC, where he remained for the next two and a half years.

As a member of the class of 1965, Cohen was one of the students responsible for the erection of the polished black granite Vietnam Veterans Memorial on Voorhees Mall on College Avenue. The memorial contains the names of Rutgers alumni who served and died during the war. Together with a committee, Cohen helped recover the names of the fallen soldiers for the project.

In 1969, Cohen received his master’s degree from Syracuse University and joined WINS radio station in New York.

He later received an invitation to return to Rutgers as a staff member and took the offer enthusiastically. At first he worked at Rutgers’ Radio/Television Center, where he describes his duties as producing radio and TV programming. In 1975 he began teaching broadcast journalism for the Department of Journalism and Urban Communication at Livingston as an unpaid volunteer.

Cohen became a full-fledged faculty member in 1980. His principal responsibilities were Broadcast News Writing and History of Radio and Television.

“I got a big kick out of the experience,” he recalled. “I enjoyed being with the students.”

In addition, Cohen also presided over the internship program for nearly 18 years. He ceased running the program in 1996.

Starting in 1972, he also produced and moderated programming for the “Rutgers Forum,” a weekly TV show on Channel 13, and was its host until 1993.

He moderated 2,000 programs over the course of his tenure and won several awards. In one show, he even managed to interview all then-currently living New Jersey governors.

Cohen encouraged broadcast students to work on the show to gain experience for their future careers. Many of them have gone on to become successful in TV, on-air programming and production.

Cohen had the opportunity to have a sabbatical in 1988 and decided rather than travel and do research he would work at the New Jersey Network’s documentary and news unit. Cohen said the experience he gained there helped him when he resumed teaching.

He was elected acting department chair for a year from 1990 to 1991 and later became the full-time chair from 1996 to 2001. He was responsible for hiring such noted faculty as Professor Montague Kern and helped create and oversee the department’s Alum-Knights newspaper.

Cohen also served as acting associate dean of the School of Communication and Information from 1985 to 1986.

A devoted supporter of Rutgers sports, Cohen covered the play-by-play for school football and basketball games. His signature signoff was: “Always Rutgers, Always Coca-Cola” because Coca-Cola was a big sponsor of athletics on campus then.

Cohen retired in June 2004 due to health reasons. Although he says he is happy to be retired, Cohen holds his time at Rutgers in high regard.

“It was a fun ride,” he said. “I enjoyed the people I worked with. I had a blast, an absolute blast.”

Although the department “changed dramatically” over the period of time he was there, he found his fellow professors to be mostly “level-headed,” he said.

He devotes a significant amount of praise in particular to his co-worker and longtime friend, Steve Miller.

“I thought I did a good job as the internship director, but Steve’s done an incredible job,” Cohen said.

As professor emeritus, Cohen still keeps a hand in department business and policies. He and his wife Debbie have a grown daughter, Joanna, and a son, Jonathan, a physician who is an infectious diseases specialist outside Philadelphia.

The Cohens have five grandchildren.