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Sunday, January 23, 2022

UF selects new journalism and communications dean

Diane McFarlin spent most of her adult life on the road between Sarasota and Gainesville, but for now she’s here to stay.

McFarlin, publisher of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune and a 1976 alumna of UF’s College of Journalism and Communications, was selected as the new dean of the college.

“I just could not be prouder to be named dean of a school that is already so distinguished,” she said.

As of Jan. 1, McFarlin will succeed John Wright, who served as interim dean since July 2006 and was named permanent dean in December 2007.

As dean, McFarlin said she hopes to help manage partnerships with stakeholders in the college and explore multimedia opportunities, including the 21st Century Newsroom in Weimer Hall.

“We extend a hearty welcome to Diane,” advertising chairman John Sutherland wrote in an email. “She has the experience, expertise and leadership ability to help us continue our pursuit of excellence.”

Unlike other candidates for the dean’s position, McFarlin doesn’t hold a master’s degree or a Ph.D.

When she was nominated, her first question was whether UF would consider someone without advanced degrees.

“My whole career has been in the profession,” she said.

However, she said, half of the top 10 journalism schools in the U.S. have deans whose backgrounds are in their profession, not academia.

She said this trend is indicative of current challenges in the field — the face of journalism is changing, and colleges want leaders who have experience dealing with those particular problems.

McFarlin also thinks UF was looking for a dean with leadership experience.

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As former executive editor of the Gainesville Sun, president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors and managing editor and publisher of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, she said, “I know what comes with a position like that, both the respect and the great reward.”

Mike Foley, a professor in the journalism department, thinks it was a bold decision.

“She’s not your traditional academic,” he said. “She’s the consummate professional.”

After graduating from UF in 1976, McFarlin started her career as a reporter for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, where she was named managing editor by the time she was 31.

She left to become executive editor of the Gainesville Sun in 1987 but returned to the Herald-Tribune three years later as executive editor. McFarlin has been the publisher of the Herald-Tribune since 1999.

Foley, who has known McFarlin for more than 25 years, said the selection comes at the right time for her and the college, which is ready to help pass her experience to students.

“We continue to try to make sure that we are preparing students for the brave new world of journalism, and she’s on the front lines,” Foley said.

Under McFarlin’s direction, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune launched a 24-hour cable news channel in 1995, one of the first of its kind.

Although McFarlin’s primary background is in print media, telecommunications chairman David Ostroff said he’s glad she has some experience with television.

“It’s going to be a learning curve for all of us,” he said.

Ostroff said all of the candidates were told the college is in dire need of more faculty. He’s looking forward to expanding in that respect, as well as working with the dean to enhance the graduate multimedia program and the TV production facilities.

“We’re delighted to have somebody that already has a great feeling for the college,” he said.

McFarlin will stay with the Herald-Tribune for another three weeks. Then she plans to travel, making visits to other journalism programs and attending conferences to prepare herself for her new job with the Gator Nation.

She’s looking forward to getting to know the faculty and students and welcomes the challenge of leading one of the top journalism schools in the country.

“I am happiest when I’m on the learning curve,” she said.

Contact Erin Jester at ejester@alligator.org.

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