Daniels a ‘teacher, mentor and friend’

Mike Daniels, adjunct broadcast journalism professor and a longtime news writer for KNXT/KCBS-TV Channel 2, died Thursday after a prolonged battle with cancer. He was 76.

“Mike Daniels was a cherished member of the journalism school family — a warm friend and an extraordinary teacher. This loss is a powerful blow to all of us,” Geneva Overholser, director of the Annenberg School of Journalism, said in a statement to the Daily Trojan.

Joe Saltzman, the director of Annenberg’s Image of the Journalist in Popular Culture and an award-winning broadcast journalist, was a longtime friend of Daniels. The two met when they were both worked for Channel 2 newsroom in 1965, and Saltzman noted Daniels’ warm spirit.

Daniels, who was born on May 27, 1936, graduated from USC in 1958 with a degree in telecommunications. In his senior year, he began his career at KNXT/KCBS-TV, where he went on to work as a news producer and manager for almost 40 years.

“The news director had told Mike that as soon as he brought me up to speed producing the show, he could get off the overnight,” Saltzman said. “We worked on news shows together for the next two years and have been friends ever since. When I left CBS [in 1974] to come to USC to create the broadcasting sequence, he was the first one I called to teach in the new program — television news production — and he has been teaching ever since.”

Daniels earned several prestigious awards for journalism throughout his career, including several Emmys and Golden Mikes.

“All hell could be breaking around him, complete chaos with people screaming and running around, but Mike would sit there in the eye of the newsroom hurricane quietly and patiently putting the newscast together,” Saltzman said. “He never lost his cool or his temper and was a calming force in any breaking-news situation.”

Not only did Daniels contribute to the field of journalism, Saltzman said he influenced popular culture as well, Saltzman said. The professor was friends with the brother of the playwright Neil Simon, and Daniels inspired Simon to create the well-known character Felix in the play The Odd Couple, which was later adapted into a TV show.

In addition to teaching courses at Annenberg and Loyola Marymount University, Daniels was in charge of a student internship program at KCBS.

Daniels’ colleagues and friends said they will remember him not only for his journalistic excellence but also for his passion for teaching.

“I really think Mike would like to be remembered as a teacher, as someone who loved students,” Saltzman said in a statement to the Daily Trojan. “I think he would like to be remembered as a man who was kind and generous whether it be on land or on the ocean with his time, his money and his love.”

Friends also said they would remember him for his love of sailing. His close friends affectionately referred to him as “Skipper Daniels,” a play off the lead character from Gilligan’s Island.

Daniels had a profound impact on his students, many of whom posted remembrances on Daniels’ Facebook page following his death. Mike Runzler, a former student, said Daniels’ was a true inspiration.

“He was a great teacher, mentor and friend,” Runzler said in a statement. “I’ve got great memories both in the classroom and on the water.”

Saltzman said one of his favorite memories of Daniels at USC was seeing him surrounded by students laughing and sharing information.

“The smile on his face said it all,” Saltzman said. “He loved teaching. He loved being with young people. He loved sharing experience and information. He loved being a mentor.  I have never seen anyone enjoy students more.”

A memorial service for Daniels will be held April 21 at the California Yacht Club at 4:30 p.m. In lieu of flowers, the Daniels’ family requests that donations be made to the Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism under the Mike Daniels Fund.