The kids are all right. Despite my best efforts…
On Friday, I had five cohorts of students graduate from Annenberg-USC. Three graduate student cohorts (broken down into two cohorts that attended USC for two years, and one in the brand-new one-year accelerated Master’s program). One group of quirky, hardworking undergrads. And a summer school class of “Specialized Journalism” grad students.
I had to start traveling at 4 a.m. in Sonoma County, to get to the graduation before all was over; but it was worth every second of sitting on runways and grinding my teeth while crammed into a coach seat (they get tinier every year, it seems). I got to see all my students, beaming and full of excitement, enthusiasm and hope. God knows we need those three emotional energy states in journalism these days.
So thank you to all my students who came up and talked with me on your graduation day, instead of doing the sensible thing and going out to blow off all the pressure of going through one of the most demanding journalism programs in the world. Obviously, this graduation day was a once-in-a-lifetime event – how often are we going to get an entire 2-year Master’s class and an entire 1-year class all graduating ON THE SAME DAY?
The school was bursting at the seams this past year. I don’t know if it’s going to seem emptier physically around the hallways & crannies of Annenberg … but it will certainly seem emptier emotionally, without all the crazy, jangled energy of this past year.
Background: In September, the Annenberg School of Communications and Journalism embarked on a grand experiment, of which I was lucky/proud/crazy to be a part. In order to better serve the grad students by turning them out with less time spent away from their careers, less in costs and more timeliness. Timeliness? Yes. In the fast-moving online media world, well, let’s just say that I know that some of the things I taught in the Fall 2013 semester were already becoming obsolete by Spring 2015. It’s the nature of the beast; over on the digital side of journalism education, we do the best we can to keep up with the trends in technology, content and design. Not to mention trying to surf ahead of the latest & greatest social-media fads, if for no other reason than to recognize the latest app students are goofing off with in class (Oh hai there Snapchat!).
Still, despite my frustrations at not being able to cover all the things that I had hoped for in my classes, I was gratified (relieved?) to have so many students come up to me and express how much they learned from my digital immersion lessons, and how they thought that I was the funniest, most interesting prof they had. Yeah, yeah, I know. </humblebrag>
I’m a wild-eyed digital journalism professor. I have an ego. Shocker.
We’re obviously conducting a very intense experiment at Annenberg, which is entirely appropriate, given the state of the news industry (as I have chronicled here on this blog for the past decade or so).
In a business environment that closely resembles the last five minutes of a James Bond film, where the klaxons are blaring and guys in white jumpsuits are frantically running around and dying in explosions because Bond just set the reactor to overload … well in an environment that is basically as overheated and disjointed at that introductory sentence, the absolute stupidest, most dangerous thing you can possibly do is just stand still. Act defensively. Huddle tight, batten the hatches, and hope you can stick it out long enough for someone to figure out how to build a raft out of the wreckage.
That is not a recipe for success. Probably not even a recipe for survival. At least, not beyond the short term.
Taking risks is, paradoxically, the only way we are going to find our way out of the death spiral that high-quality news content has locked itself into, as the traditional advertising models have all gone digital. And I’ll be the first to admit that we made mistakes this past year, as we tried to adapt to the accelerated teaching schedule, and the new reliance on real-world story production, in lieu of homework.
But as I tell my students, “If you’re not making mistakes, if you’re not failing at least a little, then all that means is that you’re not trying something challenging enough.”
As professors, as a school, we are trying something really challenging. Thanks to you all for sticking with us through this process.
If you show half the amount of eagerness, flexibility, and lack of fear in the face of the unknown out in the real world that you demonstrated in my classrooms, then I fully expect that within 10 years, you will have reshaped the way news is investigated, presented and consumed. Some of you will make vast fortunes, using what we have taught you as a base for launching your own digital content operations.
At which point, I want 10%. (ka-ching!)