Students and colleagues of Northeastern University journalism professor Nicholas Daniloff are used to his hands-on style of teaching – whether it involves dressing up as philosopher Immanuel Kant for a lesson on mass media in a democratic society, or conducting a mock press conference in his ethics class.
A former foreign correspondent for United Press International and U.S. News & World Report, Daniloff brings into the classroom more than 30 years of experience as a working journalist.
“Nick Daniloff is of an era when being a journalist was not defined by having a verified Twitter account,” said John Guilfoil, a former student of Daniloff who is now deputy press secretary to Boston Mayor Thomas Menino. “He comes from the age of journalism when it was a practiced art form, and he teaches it like a practiced art form.”
His work to prepare young journalists to lead news organizations into the future has earned Daniloff the New England Journalism Educator of the Year Award from the New England Newspaper and Press Association (NENPA). He is the first member of the Northeastern School of Journalism to be presented with the award.
Daniloff was nominated by Stephen Burgard, director of the journalism school at NU, who said Daniloff “fit the bill” as a teacher who creatively engages his students in the trials and rewards of newsgathering.
“He gives exercises that makes them feel like they are part of something important. He gets people really engaged in the practice of being a journalist,” said Burgard.
Daniloff, known for a student-centered approach to teaching and his embrace of NU’s emphasis on learning by doing, said the award, which he accepted in October, was an honor that came “out of the blue.”
The award comes as he prepares to retire in May.
“It is a wonderful recognition of a very relevant career. He is a fitting first winner from our department,” said Charles Fountain, an associate professor of journalism at Northeastern who has known Daniloff for the 25 years he has been at NU.
In addition to inspiring students, Daniloff has helped fellow journalists to make the transition from journalist to teacher, his colleagues said. Moving from a fast-paced newsroom to the slower world of academia can be challenging.
“He was able to coach and teach a lot of us to go from the newsroom to the classroom,” said Burgard.
Daniloff said he has tried to help his colleagues flourish in academia, as they did in the news industry. “Teaching is fairly demanding. You have to know your stuff,” he said.
Daniloff successfully navigated the transition in 1989, not long after being released by the KGB, who had held him captive for a year after his 1986 arrest in Moscow for alleged espionage, while he was working as a foreign correspondent.
He had turned down multiple short-term job offers, including one from Yale and another from his alma matter, Harvard College, before settling at Northeastern, where he was asked to teach in the journalism school about the Soviet Union. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, he moved on to teach multiple classes, including ethics.
From 1992 to 1999, Daniloff served as director of the School of Journalism. He set and kept high standards for the school, his colleagues said.
“As director of the program, he brought a warmth to this place. He always wanted to make sure people felt welcomed here. He was a good advocate for the department,” said Lincoln McKie, a journalism professor who has known Daniloff for over 20 years.
Daniloff, who recently completed a new book -- Chechnya’s Secret Wartime Diplomacy: Aslan Maskhadov and the Quest for a Peaceful Resolution – has no concrete plans for retirement.
“I am not totally clear on what’s next,” he said.
This article was reported and written under the supervision of Northeastern University journalism instructor Lisa Chedekel, as part of a collaboration with The Boston Globe.