Rob Wells Is Crunching Numbers, Staying Safe

Rob Wells Is Crunching Numbers, Staying Safe
Rob Wells

Rob Wells, the University of Arkansas journalism professor who is helping take over the news site, is also taking strict precautions against the virus.

“I’m teaching fully online,” said Wells, whose data journalism class is taking the Arkansas COVID data website off the hands of creator Misty Orpin this month. (See Arkansas COVID Creator Hands It to UA Journalists.) “My wife has a pretty severe respiratory disease, so I can’t, you know, take chances.”

“I’m used to teaching online, and have trained on it, and I’ve taught online at all three universities I’ve been at, so I’m pretty comfortable,” Wells continued. “The odd thing was, going online midway through the spring semester, was having to tell my reporting class that I didn’t want them talking to people face to face anymore. It’s too dangerous, so, please, just talk to people by phone completely.”

Wells is suited to teaching data journalism, having chased numbers through a quarter-century of reporting and editing.

“I was a journalist for 26 years, with The Associated Press in five different states, and then Bloomberg News and Dow Jones newswires in D.C.,” he said, filling in his resume for Whispers. “I was also deputy bureau chief for the Wall Street Journal in Washington.”

He then took a Ph.D. from the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland and entered academia full time in 2012.

His first book, “The Enforcers,” appeared last year to favorable reviews, examining how the nation’s trade press helped expose Charles H. Keating and the savings-and-loan fraud scandal of the 1980s.

The book, subtitled “How Little-Known Trade Reporters Exposed the Keating Five and Advanced Business Journalism” (University of Illinois Press), highlighted the work of Stan Strachan of the National Thrift News, whose reporting angered advertisers and readers, but stirred Wells to envision a new era of public watchdog reporting on business and industry.

Strachan’s former paper is now the digital news site National Mortgage News.

“I’m working on a second book right now about trade journalism, looking at the Kiplinger newsletter and its influence in the New Deal,” Wells said. “I have a contract with the University of Massachusetts Press for that project.”