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Remembering John Bremner on his 100th birthday

Monday, December 28, 2020

John Bremner talking to a student in classA century ago, on Dec. 28, 1920, John Bremner was born in Brisbane, Australia. Best known to a generation of Jayhawk journalists for his vast knowledge, rigorous courses and larger-than-life personality, Dr. Bremner influenced journalists beyond the University of Kansas through his two books, “HTK” and “Words on Words,” and his newsroom seminars.

Bremner began his career not as a journalist but as a Roman Catholic priest. His life’s journey took him from Australia to the Vatican to Ireland to the United States where he made the turn toward journalism in the master’s program at Columbia University. He later earned a doctorate in mass communications at the University of Iowa, left the priesthood and came to Kansas.

From 1969 to 1985, Bremner taught copy editing at the William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communications. Using both good and regrettable examples from news publications, he drilled grammar, headline writing and skepticism into students, cementing KU’s reputation for high-quality editing. During that period, he also traveled the country as a newsroom consultant, conducting dozens of training courses for professional journalists through the Gannett Foundation. (View “John Bremner: Guardian of the Newsroom,” made by the Gannett Foundation).

“You could lead a happy life on the slogan, ‘It's better to be fooled occasionally than suspicious constantly.’ But not on a copy desk.”

– John Bremner, “HTK”

For his excellence in the classroom, Bremner won a KU H.O.P.E. (Honor for the Outstanding Progressive Educator) Award ­– a KU teaching award determined entirely by students – and a Distinguished Teaching in Journalism Award from the Society of Professional Journalists.

“Editors strive to bring order to words. Theirs is not a democratic society in which people can exercise their freedom by using whatever capricious, inconsistent style they choose.”

– John Bremner, “Words on Words”

The Bremner Editing Center at the William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communications was founded to honor the memory of Dr. Bremner and preserve his legacy. Its mission is to help students polish their language, develop their writing and learn the value of revision. The center works to ensure continued excellence in student editing and writing skills and to promote the value of editing in journalism and mass communication professions – through the next century. 

  • Watch this video from Timothy Hrenchir, a reporter for The Topeka Capital-Journal, who was a student of Bremner's in the 1980s.
  • Read more tributes to Bremner on the Bremner Editing Center website.


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