Last Thursday, I gave final exams in my two classes at Washington State University Vancouver. On Monday, I entered final grades for a combined 45 students in those classes.
And then I exhaled.
Since January, I’ve been teaching three Communications classes — two at WSUV and one at Portland State.
Splitting my time between two campuses — two mornings a week at each one — has been the easy part. Preparing weekly lesson plans that include a mix of lectures, readings, videos, writing assignments, and guest speakers has been more challenging. Even more so, the time and mental energy involved in grading dozens upon dozens of essays, media diaries, and other assignments.
But all that’s done. (Well, most of it anyway. I’ve still got the one class at Portland State, where my 50 students and I just passed the halfway point of the spring quarter.)
It’s time for a few fist-bumps and reflections on my first semester at WSUV. And if you’re wondering about the headline, it’s a reference to the school mascot, the Cougars.
The list of thank-yous starts with Narayanan Iyer, the man who hired me to teach the just-completed classes.
Nanu is director of the Integrated Strategic Communications program within the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication, named for the legendary CBS News broadcaster. The college is headquartered in Pullman, home of the flagship campus, but WSU also has branch campuses in Vancouver, Everett, Spokane and the Tri-Cities.
Nanu invited me to give a guest lecture to a Sports and the Media class last fall. He liked what he saw and hired me to teach the course this semester, a 16-week haul from January to early May. He offered a second course, Reporting Across Platforms, a hybrid course in communications and journalism. The emphasis was on writing for digital, broadcast and print — mostly news but with a nod to public relations.
The sports course went beautifully, as more than a few eyes were opened to how sports mirrors every aspect of society on issues of race and gender, technology, economics, branding and marketing, political activism and sexual assault, just to name a few.
The second course went pretty well, too, although it required more adjustments on the fly. WSUV doesn’t yet have a journalism minor, let alone a major. Students have to go to Pullman for that. So, without an actual newsroom set-up and only a handful of class members seriously interested in journalism, it required some finesse.
In both classes, I called on an array of guest speakers, talented people that I’ve been privileged to work with or get to know over the years. (More on them below.)
Nanu was indispensible. He provided encouragement and support, guiding me through WSUV’s online learning management system (how to post and receive class assignments, send email, etc.) and even filling in for me as a guest lecturer when I had to miss two classes. Most of all, he made me comfortable and valued as an adjunct instructor — something you can’t put a price on.
The other big thank-you goes to Lori, whose patience (understandably) resembled a roller-coaster depending on whether I was partially or totally consumed with prepping for classes or plowing through a stack of papers that needed grading.
During 40-plus years of marriage to a journalist, Lori has put up with too many late dinners to count; evening, weekend and holiday work; out-of-town travel; interrupted vacations; and, in recent years, the nearly 24/7 demands of news and reader engagement in the digital age.
I’m very aware and very appreciative that I’ve been able to put so much of my time into these three classes only because Lori has enabled me to. Our free time together has taken a big hit and I’ve had to give up regular exercise except for the weekends. But the worst of it is behind us now. From here on out, I’ll be teaching either one or two classes — not three — and I’ll be able to refresh material I’ve used before rather than build a course from scratch.
As for other thank-yous, let me start with five guest speakers in the Sports and the Media class.
Lindsay Schnell, a Sports Illustrated staff writer who covers college sports, and Gina Mizell, an Oregonian/OregonLive beat reporter who covers Oregon State football and women’s basketball, talked about having to work twice as hard to be taken seriously as women journalists in a male-dominated industry. It wasn’t that long ago that female journalists and their employers had to go to court to force teams and leagues to provide equal access to locker rooms, where so many coach and player interviews happen, so they could do their jobs on equal footing with men.
Tom Goldman told students of his career path in radio, starting at Alaska Public Radio in Anchorage and leading to his one-of-a-kind job as a Portland-based national correspondent for National Public Radio. His show-and-tell of assorted microphones and digital recorders captured students’ attention and focused their attention on an underappreciated way of delivering the news.
Chris Metz, vice president for communications with the Portland Timbers and Thorns, pulled back the curtain on the hectic life of a front-office executive. The job entails traveling with the teams; establishing and protecting their brands; helping manage coaches and players, who present a range of egos and personalities; dealing with local and national media; and responding to fans in the nation’s most popular soccer market.
And then there was Brenda Tracy. The victim of a gang rape by Oregon State football players in the late ’90s, Brenda has become a leading spokeswoman on sexual assault and rape culture, meeting with coaches and athletes across the country. Her story of redemption, beginning as a young single mom with no self-esteem, going public with her story, and subsequently becoming a registered nurse, victim advocate and national speaker, visibly moved the young men and women in my class. “Inspiring” doesn’t begin to capture the power of Brenda’s presence.
I had five other guest speakers in the reporting class.
Kyle Iboshi, an investigative reporter at KGW and a Murrow alum himself, walked students through one of his stories, emphasizing that good reporting combines a nose for news, digging through public records, and holding public officials and institutions accountable. Like reporters everywhere, he’s producing video, writing for digital as well as broadcast, and engaging with readers on Twitter and Facebook.
Steve Woodward, a former colleague at The Oregonian, introduced students to “The new ‘New Journalism'”. With an entertaining slide show full of hyperlinks, Steve moves across the spectrum of new and mostly innovative web sites that have sprung up as alternatives to the traditional mainstream media. While most students were familiar with HuffPost and BuzzfeedNews, fewer knew about Vice, Vox, Mic, Fusion, and Rare. Same goes for ProPublica, Five Thirty Eight and The Young Turks. An innovator himself, Steve has taught journalism at three colleges and universities and is newsroom director of a Portland-based startup that’s producing one-minute videos for an increasingly international viewership.
Another former colleague at The O and OregonLive, Anna Griffin, introduced the class to multi-platform journalism as practiced by her employer, Oregon Public Broadcasting. Known for its sober, solid reporting on public affairs and other topics such as education, environment and diversity, OPB delivers content online, on the radio and TV. That means reporters today, regardless of age, must know how to write for different mediums, as well as shoot video, capture audio, and live tweet.
Beth Nakamura, a staffer at The Oregonian/OregonLive, shared her perspective as a photojournalist who broke into the business in an era of still photography, darkroom chemicals and once-a-day print deadlines and has had to adapt to a completely flipped reality. Weighed down with cameras and lenses of all sizes, Beth now shoots live video, writes her own stories, downloads photo galleries in minutes, and transmits from anywhere she can get an internet connection. Beth’s images depict ordinary people experiencing both tough and tender moments, reflecting not just their hopes, interests and challenges but her own dedication: “to enable people to be heard.”
Dianne Danowski-Smith, a vice president with Publix NW, wrapped things up with an energetic presentation that covered “the other side” of the media. As a longtime public relations pro, she explained the differences in producing in-house and external communications, in working for corporate and government employers, and in preparing for crisis situations, where some kind of response is always needed to limit damage to the client.
Each and every one of the professional journalists brought something intangible but yet very important to the class — a passion for their work that has guided their career development while also delivering compelling stories that inform, entertain and occasionally enrage readers.
I am grateful to all of them for sharing their time and expertise, indebted to Nanu for hiring me, and ever so appreciative of my wife for going through this extra-busy stretch with me.
Up next: Summer session starts June 6 with a class on Media Ethics.