Last Friday students were invited to attend a panel discussion in the MAC building featuring some of journalism’s local stars; including NBC’s Dick Johnson and Fox Chicago’s Tammie Souzsa. Stories were shared, advice was given and laughs were had by the faculty and students that sat-in on the event which included brief introductions of each panel member, and then opened up for questions.
Instead of writing an article on successful adults imparting wisdom onto students or about Dick Johnson’s cameraman who, under pressure, cannot distinguish his left from his right; I thought I’d take you on an adventure through the mind of a teacher that brought his multimedia journalism class to the event: Professor David Felix.
The COD mass communications professor knew his writing and reporting class would greatly benefit from some real world savvy, and be it that I happen to be in that class, I can testify to the panel’s usefulness. I had a chance to sit down with the University of Illinois graduate and get his insight as to how to apply the panel discussion to class, a profession in journalism and far beyond.
CK: Do you think the panel adequately portrayed the industry?
PF: Yeah, it was interesting to hear the different aspects. I really liked the fact that there was the producer there, Sunmee (Choa; ABC), I really liked her perspective as a producer because most likely, if you are going to work in this business, producer is what you should study. That is what most people end up in as opposed to on-air. I was really happy to hear her story. If it was just reporters and anchors it would have felt like the students need more than that so, I’m glad they had Dick there and someone like Tammie, a weather person – another angle of the on-air position. The sports producer (Nevin Nelson; CBS) was great because the guys in my class want to be sports guys and I think that spoke to them.
CK: How about the radio director? He had a COD nametag on.
PF: Yes he’s the news director here at the radio station. Working radio is really cool. It presents another angle but from a broadcasting side, and you start to see how the departments come together. Everyone does a little bit of everything in a radio station so I was interested in what he had to say. Especially since radio is kind of a dying thing with young people, I was excited for him to be there representing a great way for college kids to get into broadcasting on an entry-level.
CK: Dick Johnson said, “it’s a young person’s business again” in reference to the journalism industry. Do you agree with that?
PF: There are a couple things I do agree with. There is the importance of social media, the ability to be hip and cool, and just growing up with the Internet. Young people are less techno-phobic and more involved with technology than older people and I understand that. There is also a credibility issue though, especially with hard news; you can’t put a 24-year-old on the news. Your parents would much rather hear from Dick Johnson.
CK: Wow, I always thought the younger generation had the advantage but credibility is something I didn’t think about.
PF: That’s not to say it is everybody but obviously I have to be tech-savvy, I teach a multimedia class in a growing industry. I do have a friend though that teaches technology classes and doesn’t have a smart phone or understand the concept of a DVR… he’s a dinosaur. But I guarantee there are Dick Johnson’s out there that will say it’s a young person’s game…
CK: Because they don’t want to evolve or adapt!
PF: Exactly, because you have the credibility that young people don’t have.
CK: Each person on the panel mentioned that personal style is paramount to success in the business; is there anything you would add to that?
PF: Yes, I think it’s totally true. Even though someone you might admire is really good at something, you still have to be yourself and not try to copy someone. You have to figure out how to tell a story in your own way, and you have to have the basic fundamental skills. My boss told me this story when I was starting out as a talent agent: Picaso first could draw you perfectly, but then he decided to draw you abstractly. He didn’t skip the fundamental part to just look for his own voice. Don’t skip learning to be conversational or key things like writing well; it’s not your own voice to just decide ‘oh, I don’t want a period here!’ That’s not it. Learn the fundamentals, master them, and then find your own voice.
CK: Nevin (sports producer; CBS) ended the session on a slightly ironic note, quickly advising the audience to “have a thick skin.” Can you expand on this a little considering you have been in the business awhile?
PF: Well I was an agent! Even as a teacher there are things I can’t say and that doesn’t benefit you. That was different from my generation to your generation, you know? The coddling. Everyone has to get picked for the team now, that didn’t happen when I was a kid so it was a bit easier to have that thick skin. Having said that, you have to be able to take criticism in this business. If you want to be on-air you must realize, it’s a cosmetic business. There’s other ways that you can make it in this business, but you have to be able to take criticism. You have to develop those internal mechanisms that allow you to take it, get better and not take it personally.
CK: Do you feel our class really benefitted from the panel?
PF: I’m going to be honest with you. At first I was a little worried about the size, but after hearing what they had to say I thought it was really good. One of my students, Chris, got really inspired by it – he was really jacked up afterwards. For some of the kids who don’t know what they want to do yet, I think it was good for them to see some real professionals and see how it all tied in – it made it more tangible – and that was cool.
CK: If there were someone you could have picked to be on the panel with them, someone that could have hit home a point you would want to make, who might it be?
PF: Dick Johnson was recognizable, but I think it would have been nice to have someone younger also. Nevin was there and that was great, he had great insight but if we had someone more recognizable from local sports like a Gene Greco, or obviously somebody from ESPN because I have a lot of sports guys in my class…
CK: Yeah if you could have put anyone on that panel, who would it be?
PF: Someone like Scott van Pelt from ESPN or like for you, it would have been great to see Brian Williams, Katie Couric or even Al Roker. Those names just would have given more celebrity status for you guys to be wowed by.
CK: How about if you were on the panel? What would be your take away for the audience?
PF: You know this from taking my class; I really try to push my students. I know not all of you are jacked about being journalists but I don’t just want to teach to the four of you. It doesn’t matter what you’re going to be, a firefighter an accountant, whatever. There’s a lot of value of learning this and studying this aside from knowing how to write for the newspaper, and that’s what is really important. The communication ability, the writing ability, dependability, reliability and the ability to use design technology is giving you a head-over-heels advantage over others. Remember, the higher up the management chain you get, the better you are going to have to be at all of these skills; learning them now is such an advantage. That’s what I like to teach my kids, and I think that came out at the panel too.
Interested in journalism, writing,
blogging or a career in mass
communication? Take MCOM 1105 with Prof
Felix; available in 16 or 8 wk format!