Most influential: Tim Tai

Associate journalism professor Clyde Bentley: “There were many others who would have gotten into a knock-down, drag-out fight, but he was much like a diplomat.”
Senior photojournalism student Tim Tai poses for a portrait.

When senior Tim Tai decided to major in journalism as a freshman, the last thing he expected was to become the face of press freedom on MU’s campus.

Tai, a photojournalism student, drew national media attention during the Concerned Student 1950 protests in November. When former UM System President Tim Wolfe resigned Nov. 9, 2015, Tai was attempting to photograph protesters’ celebrations by entering the inner circle of the tent enclosure they’d formed on the Mel Carnahan Quadrangle. At the time, then-assistant communication professor Melissa Click was trying to shield the group from journalists and called for “muscle” to prevent reporters from getting into the inner circle.

Tai said his Twitter timeline, email inbox and phone were quickly flooded with requests from national media outlet reporters who wanted to discuss the incident.

“I honestly didn’t think anything of it after the fact until I started realizing how many people were tweeting me,” Tai said. “I tend to take things in stride, but it was definitely unexpected, and it kind of overwhelmed my life for a few days afterward.”

Associate journalism professor Clyde Bentley volunteered to be Tai’s mentor during his freshman year through the Honors College Discovery Fellows Program.

“Tim is wicked smart, but he is one of the most unassuming people I have ever met, which is why the attention from the protests was probably as much of an embarrassment to him as anything,” Bentley said.

Bentley said he was proud of Tai for the way he handled the dispute.

“He didn’t argue, he didn’t get in her face, he was polite, he stated what his concern was and then when he had to leave, he left,” Bentley said. “There were many others who would have gotten into a knock-down, drag-out fight, but he was much like a diplomat.”

Much to the disappointment of his passionate defenders on social media, Tai said that if he could turn back time, he wouldn’t have pressed the issue as much. He said it drew media attention away from the protesters and to himself.

“Nothing I did allowed me to get significantly more impactful or powerful pictures, but on the other hand, it definitely sparked some important discussions about journalists’ access, journalists’ relationships with certain groups of people, trust in the media and how journalists are covering events,” Tai said.

This year, Tai received ninth place in the Hearst Journalism Awards Program’s Multimedia One/Features Competition for a documentary about a church’s efforts to increase diversity, according to the School of Journalism’s website. He will spend this summer interning for The Boston Globe.

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