Baumbach Returns to SJU

In what was supposed to be the first week of his return to St. John’s as a journalism professor, SJU alumni Jim Baumbach was already playing hooky to watch a football game. That football game, of course, just happened to be Super Bowl XLII down in Glendale, Ariz.

It is all part of the dual role that Baumbach will play over the coming months: a sports writer for Newsday and a teacher for aspiring journalists here at St. John’s.

But Baumbach, who graduated in 2000, has experience at managing his time effectively. Besides going to class, he was also heavily involved with The Torch as sports editor, managing editor and editor-in-chief. He also worked up to 28 hours a week as a part-time high school sports reporter for Newsday. By the time he graduated, he was able to turn that part-time job into a full-time career at the newspaper. Still, he always saw himself stepping back into a classroom again.

“It was something I’ve always thought of, that sometime down the road in my career I would teach journalism, specifically sports writing,” Baumbach said. “But the biggest problem with doing it while working in the field is that a sportswriter’s life isn’t too consistent from week to week.”

Luckily for Baumbach his role as a web columnist for Newsday.com offered the opportunity to teach due to the more flexible hours that the position offered to him. The only question was whether or not St. John’s was interested in his services.

“I approached Dr. Wetherington awhile ago, maybe at the end of last summer [about teaching], and fortunately for me, he made it happen,” Baumbach said.

But even armed with more flexible hours, Baumbach knew he could still be sent out on traveling assignments that might interfere with his class schedule.

“It doesn’t happen often, but there are times when I am called and given an assignment that requires me to leave that day, or the next day,” Baumbach said. “The Super Bowl is a good example. I didn’t know I would be part of the traveling team of reporters until an hour after the [NFC Championship] game.”

Another potential problem was his lack of teaching experience. But Baumbach has been able to take advantage of those around him to construct a game plan for his class.

“Dr. Wetherington has been a significant resource for me. I’ve kept in touch with him over the past few months and I’ve been bouncing ideas off him,” Baumbach said. “My wife Shawna teaches journalism classes at Hofstra and she has been a big help. She gave me her syllabus, assignments and class-by-class plan.”

In addition to the suggestions from others, Baumbach also hopes to put his own mark on the class by passing along his experiences in the field to his students.

“I look forward to bringing the behind-the-scenes stories to class [and] to give students a better idea of just how exactly stories get into the newspaper,” Baumbach said. “There’s no substitute for going out and doing the job yourself, but hopefully I’m able to give students the next best thing.”

He should have some interesting stories and anecdotes after the week he spent covering the Super Bowl.

“My editors have given me free reign to chase any stories I wish, and I’m more interested in finding unique stories away from the players,” Baumbach said.

So what about his students? How did they react to the news that their journalism professor would be down in Arizona instead of in the classroom?

“I did e-mail my students and explained to them the situation,” Baumbach said. “Some people did say they wish they were going too.”

“One day, I’m sure they will.”