New professor brings radio news expertise to the SOJC

portrait of Brian Bull
Photo by Jeremy Parker.

Brian Bull

Assistant Professor of Journalism

Primary interests: Native American culture and history, propaganda and misinformation in the 21st century, radio news reporting

Hometown: Lewiston, Idaho

Favorite quotes:
“If you’re not making waves, you’re just sinking to the bottom.”—Brian Bull
“You’re only as good as your last story.” —Anonymous

Say “hello!”: Connect with Brian on LinkedIn

Brian Bull’s interest in radio news began with his Native American heritage. A member of the Nez Perce, or Nimiipu, tribe, he has always been interested in the stories, values and history that have been passed down through oral narratives for generations.

That love of oral history became a passion for radio after he learned to use his dad’s cassette recorder and a friend’s reel-to-reel audio player. After brief projects and hosting stints with his high school and college radio stations, he has spent more than 27 years primarily working for NPR affiliates like Eugene’s KLCC.

Bull began at KLCC in 2016 as a reporter, but has also served as news director, editor and mentor. Although KLCC is primarily a radio station, Bull also created several videos for the station’s YouTube channel, including one of a protest/counterprotest at a drag queen storytime event that went viral. While he has been fortunate to receive several prestigious journalism awards, he said one of his favorite honors was being featured on the official KLCC socks — made available during membership pledges — with a bull icon alongside several radio hosts.

Through his storytelling, Bull aims to share stories that can inform, enlighten and build bridges of understanding. Much of his work has covered stories about marginalized communities, such as Hmong funerals in Minnesota, the challenges domestic violence victims face in traditional Hmong society, and Native American activism in South Dakota. Bull said these communities are often misunderstood because of the lack of coverage they’ve historically received.

Bull decided to transition to teaching because he believes it’s an important opportunity to shape the next generation of reporters. Starting this winter term, he will bring his experience and passion for audio storytelling to the UO School of Journalism and Communication (SOJC) as an assistant professor of journalism. He will work with a small cohort of Journalism Master’s students on story development and teach a science journalism course with Professor of Practice Torsten Kjellstrand. He also plans to write a guidebook on covering Native American tribes and communities as a journalist, and to work on the Public Radio Oral History Project, which interviews the pioneers of public radio journalism.

We had the opportunity to sit down and talk with Bull about how he will use his skills at the SOJC.

SOJC: Why do you think journalism is important?

Brian Bull: Journalism is an important profession because it's about gathering perspectives and information and channeling it into a presentation, whether that's a radio feature story, a news article or even just a little online snippet your audience can consume, understand and appreciate. Without it you will probably have a lot of propaganda and rhetoric out there that only serves a certain individual or group’s aims, and you need to find the balance and accuracy there.

It just blows my mind that in the last few years we have seen information become so skewed and polarized that people are basically switching off and sticking to their worst confirmed biases of a particular individual or institution. Journalism aims to help create a forum where multiple perspectives can be presented without an agenda or bias.

SOJC: Are you excited to work with students?

BB: I'm looking forward to working with students because they are going to be bringing in fresh perspectives that perhaps I've aged out of. It's very easy as you get older to kind of stick to the things that you knew growing up. I mean, I still think the best music came out of my ’80s playlist. Students really bring in new perspectives to look at.

SOJC: What do you hope students take away from your classes?

BB: What I hope that students take away from my classes is a very strong interest in worlds beyond theirs, to push themselves to find different voices, perspectives, and also finding the very common threads that make us all human in spite of our labels and affiliations. I feel that these are very polarizing, divisive times. I also hope they embrace new ways to tell stories and explore how they can tell the same story through different mediums.

SOJC: Do you have any tips for new journalists, about radio news or other types of journalism?

BB: The first one is to always be curious, be inquisitive. Don't feel like you've arrived and you know it all. Always keep your mind open to new experiences and perspectives.

Second tip would be to be bold. We have a lot of forces pressing against journalism now — people who claim that the media is biased and faulty and has an agenda of its own, and then come the cries of “fake news.” And we're having politicians saying that only they or their party or their pundits are the trustworthy sources. People really need to be able to stand up to some of the criticism and some of the mistruths that people are propagating about journalism.

Third tip is always to remember your profession's highest principles: balance, accuracy, authenticity. Never forget that you are a representative of a time-honored profession that is a key pillar of democracy. And so it's very important to remain professional and dedicated to those principles.

Four is to have a support system. I think sometimes we get into this trap where [we feel] we alone must support ourselves and be independent and stand on our own two feet. But it's always vital to have someone that you can lean on for help and support. It could be a roommate, it could be a classmate, it could be a relative, one of your four cats, or a house plant if nothing else [laughs].

And my fifth tip is simply to have fun. If you're not enjoying what you're doing, if you're not taking some leisure time and also having energy, creativity and just delight in the work that you're doing, then you're on the wrong track.

SOJC: What research will you be working on during your time at the SOJC?

BB: The first one will be a comprehensive guidebook on covering Native American tribes and communities across the United States, much in the vein of Duncan McCue, who is a First Nations journalist up in Canada. He did a book called “Decolonizing Journalism” that looked at the Indigenous communities and tribes located across Canada. The nuances and the context and the history of tribes are all very well presented for journalists who want to cover these communities. I want to do the same here for American journalists covering tribal communities, both federally recognized and unrecognized in the States. I’ll also talk to newsroom leaders about effective ways to recruit and retain Native journalists in their ranks, because retention is a very important thing as well.

And then the other project I'll be doing for tenure is an extension, or a continuation, of the Public Radio Oral History Project that began almost a year ago. The founder and director of the program, Ken Mills, unfortunately had some health issues and he died a few months ago. So I have inherited the project from him. But he died happy because he knew that with my new position at the university, I would be taking it on and getting funding for it, which is something that we've always kind of struggled with. I'll obtain recordings one way or another with the founders and the pioneers of the American public radio system as we know it today. So, yeah, I'll have my hands full.

SOJC: What do you like to do in your free time?

BB: I enjoy photography, hiking, cooking, sleeping in with my cats. I have four of them currently. And I also enjoy going out and taking in the sights and sounds of Oregon with my wife and my three kids, who are all either young adults or teenagers right now. And I’m working on a speculative fiction novel that involves time travel, magic, World War II and Indian boarding schools. That's a pretty wild adventure that helps me break from the reality of the daily headlines.

—By Ella Norton, class of ’25

Ella Norton (she/her/hers) is a third-year student majoring in public relations and French from Kansas City, Missouri. She is a copy editor for Align Magazine, an account executive for Allen Hall Public Relations and academic development chair for her sorority.