Today I received this year’s outstanding alum award from the Penn State College of Communications. I’m still bowled over by this … the college has produced so many great alumni who have achieved so much, and who have done so much for our profession.
Here’s what I said, or what I tried to say, in my remarks:
When I learned of this tremendous honor, I felt a crush of emotions that have had me thinking a great deal about my college, my life and my profession.
It was an honor just to be able to meet the alumni society board members last night … to see and hear you working so creatively and enthusiastically to serve the college, the university, the alumni … and the current students.
Everywhere these days, we see dramatic structural and cultural changes in how we communicate. As professional communicators, we serve society best by not simply scrambling to adapt … but instead by innovating and leading these changes.
While looking over some AP material the other day, I found this great summary of some key issues:
“Never before has the human eye and ear been so effectively, so skillfully, and so maddeningly bombarded from every quarter. Public and private groups of every description have in their hands elaborate techniques of word, sound, color and drama, devised with scientific application of psychology, to arouse every human desire, passion and prejudice.”
That’s so true today.
It also was true 67 years ago … when it appeared in the AP annual report of 1944.
Ours has always been an extraordinarily challenging, and challenged, profession.
Just last night, that was clear in all the discussions of how to use social media, and video, and … speed dating … to reach and draw in the alumni society board’s varied audiences.
Ours has always been a profession in need of people who have not only a vast array of skills, but the leadership to push forward … and still higher … amid all the changes.
And it’s always been in need of trainers and educators who teach us how to do it right, and how to lead and innovate.
People like … in my day … Gene Goodwin and John Nichols … Don Smith and Vince Norris. People like, today, Doug Anderson.
In my job, at the headquarters of the AP, it sometimes seems I spend as much time dealing with Twitter, Facebook and YouTube as I do making sure stories sing.
Then again, when I started with the AP, it sometimes seemed I spent as much time trying to get urgent news out on the slospeed wire – at 66 words a minute – as I did making stories sing.
As intense as today’s challenges often seem, I’d far rather have these than the ones of even 10 or 20 years ago.
But the past is invaluable in its many lessons … examples of how to do things right, of how to innovate and lead and do what’s critical to our success in moving forward.
So let me turn again to the past for a story. It’s about a man whose work with the College of Communications, and the previous School of Journalism, I think gets to the heart of what I’m talking about.
In 1949, as a young Military Police Officer, he found himself “volunteered” to be the news and sports director of the Armed Forces radio station in Osaka, Japan. His qualifications: He’d been editor of his high school newspaper _ a once-a-semester, one-page affair in a tiny South Dakota school.
Multi-format journalism, and quick adaptation, six decades ago.
Jump ahead a few years, and he’s on the air at WGN in Chicago. There, he took the lead in innovation, experimenting with new formats for the news report.
He moved on to a teaching gig at the University of Illinois. There, he met the visiting Gene Goodwin, newly named to head the School of Journalism at a far-off place called Penn State. Next thing he knew, Goodwin had lured him to the Nittany valley.
At Goodwin’s initiative, he launched Penn State’s first broadcast journalism curriculum in 1959.
That was big. But he and some colleagues were thinking bigger. He was coming of professional age at the same time as broadcast television … and, soon, at the same time as the early days of cable television … which could bring TV programming to people in areas unreachable by broadcast signals.
To him, it was all tied in with pushing Penn State’s mission forward.
He believed that Penn State must be a leader in forging ways to use these emerging media and technologies … the Twitter and Skype of their day … to bring education to people who wouldn’t otherwise have access.
So over the next few years, he worked with others to establish Penn State’s public television station … with educational programming as the focus. He worked with cable operators – still in the early stages of laying the cable itself – to develop systems of bringing still more educational programming to all the nooks and crannies of Pennsylvania.
Decades before online courses at the click of a mouse became commonplace, this was real innovation.
His goal was to find ways to use the latest technology – whatever it may be _ to both communicate and educate. And … use that technology — and all media formats — to do the one thing that ties us all together: Share each other’s stories.
That was what he advocated again and again, including when he chaired the strategic planning committee for what became the current Penn State College of Communications.
This was my late father, Marlowe Froke.
One more brief story:
In the mid-1980s, as I worked the night desk at the AP in Minneapolis, a journalism professor named Doug Anderson came to town from Arizona State University. He needed material for a journalism textbook chapter describing “wire service” work. Soon, journalism students everywhere were reading about “Froke’s Rewrite Strategy” on the hot topic of black bears invading Duluth, Minnesota.
Professor Anderson clearly had outstanding judgment.
You working in or with the College of Communications are on the front lines of creating the news and communications professionals of the future.
You know that we need journalists, and communications professionals of all sorts, with a thorough grounding in the basics.
That’s true whether their initial focus is in text, or in still photography, or in video and film.
But you also know that it’s not enough any more to be a great photographer, or a great writer, or a great video journalist. We need people who can do it all _ often at the same time.
And having the technical skills aren’t enough. We need journalists … and all communicators … with a true appreciation of storytelling, in every format. The ones who create the kind of stories that reach out and grab all of those busy skimmers glancing at their BlackBerry, or at Facebook … … or at a newspaper.
We need journalists who search for new and better ways of using social media both in their reporting and then in reaching more readers and viewers in meaningful ways.
Most of all … We need journalists – and, again, communications professionals of all stripes _ who are true leaders. And true innovators.
We need the ones who, 50 years ago, might have pioneered using cable TV as a way of bringing education to rural areas. The ones who, today, might pioneer a distinctive way of integrating video, text, still photos and Twitter feeds.
Or who might, say, figure out how newspapers can make money off the Web.
For all of that and so much more, we need people like those here at Penn State to train them and inspire them.
One more thing, as we all contemplate how best to teach all of this.
This from my dad:
“When it comes right down to it, I think a good teacher is really a story teller, and then within the context of telling the stories, really accomplishes the presentation of significant information, whether it be historical or scientific or mathematical, journalism, whatever.
“There are stories all over the place that can be told and should be told, with people as the focus. People are interested in people.”