journalist, MSU journalism professor
Ask Bill Coté about state government. He’ll tell you most of its work has little to do with press conferences, frivolous legislative proposals, photo-ops or inflammatory speeches. The real power of state government is exercised below the radar of public scrutiny he taught his students, yet highly visible to the keen eye of a persistent reporter.
“That awareness was one of Bill’s competitive assets and led to intensive coverage of such administrative entities as the Civil Rights Commission and the state Board of Education,” says Eric Freedman, who directs Capital News Service at Michigan State University, nominating his predecessor.
Coté’s career includes almost two decades of work as a highly respected practitioner of journalism at Booth Newspapers, another two decades as a journalism educator at MSU and, in between, as a journalism researcher. He studied media coverage of victims of crime and violence and helped write the manual on how to report with skill and compassion.
He took over Capital News Service, an MSU class in state government reporting, and raised it to national stature. By the time he retired in 2002, it had grown to serve 25 daily and weekly newspapers and offered a radio component through Michigan Public Radio.
“Every Michigan governor in recent history, not to mention other state officials, has had the challenge of dealing with Bill and his Capital News Service students,” recalls former Gov. James J. Blanchard, now with a Washington, D.C. law firm. “What a refreshing experience it was to face Bill’s group and attempt to answer their original questions.”
Friends, politicians, former editors and current faculty praise Coté for his dedication. “Above all, Bill stands out as a gentleman and a polished journalist who focused on doing a job without regard to his own personal well-being,” says Sam Martino, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and former State News colleague at MSU. “When more seasoned reporters at the State Capitol played cards in the press room or journeyed to a bar at the Jack Tar hotel, Bill remained hard at work.”.