Kent Collins, who led thousands of MU journalism students into successful careers in television and radio news, died Thursday.
With a journalism career spanning over 50 years, Collins, 74, worked in newsrooms across the country, but he found his home at the Missouri School of Journalism in Columbia.
The son of two journalists, Collins’ commitment to journalism was instilled in him at a young age. His first newsroom was at KOMU-TV, the school’s television laboratory, where he studied his craft as a student until graduating in 1970.
Collins joined the MU faculty in 1983 and worked as the KOMU news director from 1983 to 1985 and again from 1988 to 1990. He retired as an associate professor in 2018 after teaching for 35 years and serving nearly 20 as the school’s chair of the broadcast news department.
Collins’ love of journalism sent him to all corners of the world. He studied and trained international journalists in China, Kenya and Eastern Europe, where he taught them how to report on government issues and democracies with a critical lens.
In addition to teaching, Collins wrote The Senior Forum, a nationally syndicated daily newspaper column about retirement and aging, for 23 years. He also founded the company Medialine, a national job and information service for television news professionals.
In 2019, Collins won the Edward L. Bliss award for distinguished broadcast journalist education.
Even after Collins retired, colleagues and alumni say he continued to play a significant role in helping students navigate careers in the industry.
Stacey Woelfel, a colleague of more than 30 years who worked under Collins at KOMU as assistant news director, said he remembers the devotion he had for his students and his commitment to ensuring their success.
“He really developed, in the last eight or 10 years before he retired, a robust job placement system where he would bring in all the television group owners to campus for interviews ... and it really became quite an operation,” Woelfel said.
Woelfel ended up taking over as news director at KOMU after Collins returned to teaching in 1990.
“His love of the school extended to decades long relationships with media organizations and leaders across the country,” David Kurpius, the dean of the Missouri School of Journalism, told faculty and staff in a statement sharing Collins’ death.
“As we all know, he expertly organized these relationships into a recruitment operation to benefit our students that is the gold standard nationally,” Kurpius wrote.
Denise Vickers, who studied under Collins in the KOMU newsroom, said she remembers his approachable teaching style and his “big smile and big heart.”
“Kent is the single most influential person in my career,” Vickers said.
She noted that Collins was always willing to give his time to students whenever they needed advice or just simply to talk.
“Tigers all across the globe are crying big tears today over the loss of our friend and mentor and professor,” Vickers said.
Lisa Collins, a student of Collins as well as his daughter-in-law, said even in retirement, his passion for the Journalism School was unwavering.
“The J-School was really important to him, and he was committed to still being a steward of the J-School and its mission,” she said.
A colleague who shared Collins’ passion for the welfare of the Journalism School was George Kennedy, the former editor of the Columbia Missourian.
Kennedy became friends with Collins after years of working together, and the two would grab breakfast together on Saturdays. Kennedy described Collins as not only a great journalist but also a devoted member of the faculty.
“Kent left a bigger footprint than most of us do, in the sense that he was not only a teacher and administrator, but a practitioner and a student of the craft,” Kennedy said.
“He’ll be missed by not only people in Columbia and around the journalism school, but people around the country — and, for that matter, people around the world.”