Of all the honorees this year, Lee Coppola has had the most varied career. He was a newspaper reporter, a TV investigative reporter, an assistant US attorney and dean of the journalism school where his storied career began.
Coppola was part of a talented class of journalism graduates from St. Bonaventure University in 1964. Following two-and-a-half years of military service, Coppola was hired by the Buffalo News. His articles on organized crime and the Witness Protection Program were the inspiration for the movie Hide in Plain Sight, starring actor James Caan.
Coppola left the newspaper after 16 years to pursue a career as a TV journalist. In 1983, he was hired as the Troubleshooter for WKBW, Channel 7’s Eyewitness News and later served as an investigative reporter for WIVB, Channel 4’s News 4. As a television reporter, he won prestigious national awards such as the George Polk and awards from the Investigative Reporters and Editors and the National Press Club.
Coppola received his law degree from the University at Buffalo’s School of Law in 1983. He eventually left TV news in 1991 and became an assistant US attorney in Buffalo, where he spent five years prosecuting drug dealers.
In 1996, Coppola returned to his alma mater and became dean of the newly created School of Journalism and Mass Communication at St. Bonaventure University. He created a thriving program in broadcast journalism. A gift from the family of the late Bob Koop, who was a colleague at WIVB, was used to build and equip a broadcast journalism laboratory named in Koop’s memory. The lab has helped many students prepare for careers in broadcast journalism. Coppola later secured the donation of a fully-equipped remote broadcast trailer where students have learned how to produce live sports events, such as men’s and women’s college basketball games. The games are then streamed on the Internet.
Coppola retired as dean in 2011 but continues as a credible source for reporters seeking his informed analysis of media issues.
Coppola, who grew up on Buffalo’s West Side, and his wife, also named Lee, have three grown children Julie, Frank and Michael and several grandchildren.