Before November 1971, Stephen Burgard’s jour­nalism career con­sisted of a stint with his high school news­paper and a col­lege radio show. But it was in that month, aboard the U.S.S. Little Rock, through a closed-​​circuit TV news pro­gram, that Bur­gard — now director of North­eastern University’s School of Jour­nalism — would find his calling.

Bur­gard, at 22, had joined the crew as an enlisted man only a few months ear­lier, and to boost morale, the ship’s chap­lain had directed that the guided mis­sile cruiser be out­fitted with the TV system. The chap­lain then tapped Bur­gard to pro­duce a 10-​​minute nightly news seg­ment, while at sea up and down the Atlantic Ocean and in the Mediterranean.

It was a wind­fall for me,” said Bur­gard, who was working in the ship’s mess at the time. “I jumped at the chance.”

To launch the project, Bur­gard col­lab­o­rated with a com­mu­ni­ca­tions officer named Ray Mabus — who later became the gov­ernor of Mis­sis­sippi, and is now the U.S. Sec­re­tary of the Navy in the Obama admin­is­tra­tion. Together, they devel­oped the program’s news format and edi­to­rial direc­tion, rehearsed the seg­ments and later pro­duced them live.

Bur­gard recalled tearing off pages and pages of news con­tent that came across the wires in the ship’s radio room, and poring through the sto­ries for the TV broadcasts—as well as for the ship’s daily news­paper, which he also helped produce.

Many of the broad­casts included updates on the Vietnam War and U.S. pol­i­tics, while a lighter story of the “man bites dog” variety typ­i­cally closed the pro­gram. Bur­gard once inter­viewed a State Depart­ment offi­cial who was vis­iting the ship, and also remem­bers pro­ducing seg­ments as a vicious storm in Atlantic Ocean rocked the ship for sev­eral days.

Bur­gard taught him­self to edit the news pro­gram and pri­or­i­tize the top stories—though he smiles while acknowl­edging the sports show fol­lowing his broad­cast usu­ally boasted higher rat­ings among the 900-​​member crew.

This expe­ri­ence ulti­mately launched Bur­gard into his dis­tin­guished career in jour­nalism — and he recalls the moment it hap­pened. The ship was cruising through the Strait of Gibraltar, and Bur­gard was in his office, immersed in his daily prepa­ra­tions. The ship then began piping in the BBC radio over the intercom, and Bur­gard looked out his window across the beau­tiful blue sea to see the Rock of Gibraltar in the distance.

With the news broad­cast echoing around him and cap­ti­vated by the spec­tac­ular view, Bur­gard recalled thinking, “This is what I want to do with my career.”