Rockin’ Out with Journalism Stars at Ohio State

Posted on April 4, 2012


Once, my husband and I were at a James Beard dinner in Napa Valley when he looked over my head (not hard to do since he is more than a foot taller than I) in apparent awe and wonder. I thought there was a beautiful woman behind me. When I asked what exactly he was staring at, my Grateful Dead-loving husband gasped out just two words: “Bob Weir.”

Getting to meet those who we have long appreciated and respected from afar is always pretty cool. Last week I had my own “Bob Weir moment” that lasted for nearly two days.

Peter Shane

On March 29 and 30, Ohio State’s Moritz College of Law sponsored a symposium entitled, “The Future of Online Journalism,” coordinated by internationally renowned OSU law professor Peter Shane (a visiting prof at Harvard this year). I met with Dr. Shane’s student organizers as soon as I heard of the symposium to offer any help our School of Communication could provide, and they soon took me up on the offer by asking if I might moderate a panel on local innovations in online news.

I figured it would be fun and, hopefully, interesting.

It was far more.

I realized this would be an experience like few others when Dr. Shane sent me “my” panel–made up of Pulitzer winner and J-Lab founder Jan Schaffer, respected multimedia journalist Richard Koci Hernandez and watchdog journalist Paul Socolar from the Philadelphia Public School Notebook.

And the big names didn’t stop there.

When we sat down to the opening night dinner, we were joined by Ms. Schaffer; Steven Waldman, cofounder of Beliefnet, former the national editor of US News & World Report, senior adviser to the FCC Chairman, and lead author of the FCC report, “The Information Needs of Communities: The Changing Media Landscape in a Broadband Age,” known as the Waldman Report; and Mark Miller, former editor of the respected non-profit news site the Texas Tribune and presently editorial operations manager of Newsweek/The Daily Beast.

Nearby–and speaking on the first panel about Law and Online Journalism–was Chris Davey, a grad school friend now director of public information for the Supreme Court of Ohio; legendary legal blogger David Lat of Above the Law and Underneath Their Robes, and the pithy, insightful Dahlia Lithwick, who covers the Supreme Court of the United States for Slate.

And the list went on and on–from our Kiplinger Program director Doug Haddix to Kevin Davis of the Investigative News Network (on the Future Accountability of Journalism), to Mayur Patel of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation (on Understanding and Meeting Community Information Needs), to keynoter Richard Tofel, general manager of Pulitzer winning non-profit news entity ProPublica, and well beyond.

It was I told one friend, a journalism educators all-star rock concert.

But this was far more than style over substance. There was talk of democracy and industry contraction, of hyperlocal and non-profits filling voids left by the shrinking of the major metro influence. There was the quest to understand entertainment vs. information and how our branches of government can work ever so subtly (or not) to strangle the Fourth Estate like kudzu in a Georgia summer. There was debate over philosophy and practicality and evolution and technology.

There were bright spots of hope. Dark moments of critical concern.

And lots and lots of bright minds mulling over ideas that could bring a brighter journalistic future to light.

I was sorry more of my students did not make the effort to join us (though I was grateful to and proud of the dozen past and present ones that made the effort), and it was a shame another event kept many of my School of Communication colleagues away. Too few working journalists also made the effort to come out for a single afternoon that could have given them more inspirational and cautionary insights into a journalistic future for which we all need to be prepared.

But I heard the music loud and clear, and if you didn’t leave there inspired to do more and better within the online journalism world, you were clearly not paying attention.

And when I followed up this week with an amazingly quick two-hour coffee talk with Doug Haddix–who was a respected journalist, editor and training director at Investigative Reporters and Editors before assuming the Kiplinger helm–the ideas kept flying.

Bob Weir is still rockin’, but he and my husband both know the Grateful Dead is not coming back. Journalism, however, still has plenty of new music left to play–and write–and it needs our help with innovations and enthusiasm to find the best new tune in the online world.

What do you think is the next, best direction in which  journalism should head?

PS: As soon as the panel videos and/or transcripts are available, I will link to them here!