Students, alumni discuss implications of Rodale Inc. buyout

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When Robert David Rodale graduated from Lehigh University in 1952, he set out to change the journalism world.

Known for being ahead of his time, Rodale’s writing on organic gardening and the harmful effects of pesticides gained the attention of the U.S. government. When he took over leadership of family-owned Rodale Inc., he built the publications company to become one of the world’s largest sources for health and wellness information.

Based in Emmaus, Pennsylvania, the company owns a number of global publications — such as Men’s Health, Prevention, Rodale’s Organic Life, Runner’s World, and Bicycling — and issues 100 editions to 67 countries.

On Oct. 18, Hearst Media, the publisher of popular magazines Cosmopolitan and Esquire, announced it would be acquiring Rodale Inc., which has struggled to offset declines in print sales for 2017.

Rodale Inc. began exploring opportunities for potential buyers in June. Details of the deal have not been disclosed, but the agreement will be closed by next year. This is a shift for Rodale Inc., after being under family ownership for 90 years.

Lehigh’s journalism department has had a close relationship with the Rodale family for 65 years, which started after Robert Rodale graduated with his bachelor’s degree in journalism.

Rodale’s daughter, Heather, also graduated from Lehigh in 1974. She later assumed the role of vice president of community outreach at Rodale Inc.

In 1994, the Rodale Scholars program was established with the goal of honoring a select group of undergraduate Lehigh students who demonstrated strong leadership skills and a passion for journalism. The scholarship program offers students financial support, as well as the opportunity to intern at Rodale Inc. and attend scholarship dinners to network with representatives from the company.

Jack Lule, the chair of the journalism and communication department, is concerned that Hearst Media’s acquisition of Rodale Inc. will affect Lehigh’s relationship with the company.

Rodale Inc. did not respond to numerous calls and emails requesting comments.

“My biggest concern and fear is that the Rodale publications will move out of the Lehigh Valley and down to New York,” Lule said. “That’ll be a loss of a lot of jobs, a loss to Emmaus and the Valley, and on a Lehigh level, it’ll be a loss of regular internships for our students.”

Lule said several Rodale scholars have gone on to pursue careers or internships at Rodale Inc. He said the executive board at the company often consists of Lehigh graduates.

Samantha Tomaszewski, ’17, was a Rodale scholar throughout her time at Lehigh. Tomaszewski interned at Rodale Inc. as a writer for its magazine Bicycling during her junior year.

“I wanted to intern somewhere that would actually give me experience at an outside company,” Tomaszewski said. “While it was great that I had a bunch of experience at Lehigh, it was also awesome to have a different name under my belt.”

During her internship, Tomaszewski wrote for the magazine and contributed ideas to its social media strategy. She still stays in contact with the coworkers she met during her time at Rodale.

Carina Bonasera, ’19, is a Rodale scholar and a designer for The Brown and White. She said the scholarship has helped her financially.

Bonasera said besides offering a generous stipend, the scholarship comes with the opportunity to interact with Rodale donors and form closer connections with faculty and staff in the journalism department.

“Every semester, we had a lunch with all of the people who received the scholarship,” Bonasera said. “It was a nice opportunity for people to come together and meet everyone in the journalism department. It’s a close group.”

Bonasera said she is concerned that Hearst Media’s acquisition of Rodale Inc. might affect the ability of the journalism department to offer this scholarship to students.

Tomaszewski hopes Lehigh will be able to uphold its relationship with Rodale.

“Hopefully the personal relationships will override whatever kind of business stuff is going on and still try to help out Lehigh students if they can,” Tomaszewski said.

Lule has been in touch with Rodale since Lule started working at Lehigh 30 years ago and plans to stay in contact. Hearst Media has not yet reached out to him.

“I’m going to try and keep that relationship going between Rodale and Lehigh,” Lule said. “Hopefully, it won’t be the last chapter and that we’ll be able to keep things going whether it’s in Emmaus or in New York.”

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