The School of Communications seeks to foster understanding of issues and perspectives that are inclusive. The purpose of the Media Diversity Lecture Series is to discuss issues and present perspectives relating to mass communications across diverse cultures in a global society.
Two long-time journalists told BYU students recently that budding news reporters and editors should be optimistic about the future of their profession even in light of current challenges.
“The future of journalism is bright,” Morgan State University Dean DeWayne Wickham told students in a BYU News Reporting class on Dec. 6.
Wickham spent decades as a columnist at USA Today and interviewed Barack Obama and Fidel Castro, among others. He also covered the O.J. Simpson murder trial in California in the early 1990s. He is the founding dean of the School of Global Journalism and Communication at Morgan State in Baltimore.
Wickham says the current furor over “fake news” is nothing new. Presidential candidates and presidents have always complained about news coverage, he said. The Hutchins Commission in 1947 grew out of a government effort to create a censorship board for newspapers. Wickham said news will always be relevant, even while technology will continue to change. He said he is optimistic about the future of journalism.
Jacqueline Jones, assistant dean and department chair for Multimedia Journalism at Morgan State, accompanied Wickham to BYU and also spoke to students about the future of news.
“I think a news organization needs to stake out whether it wants to be first or whether it wants to be right,” Jones said in response to a BYU journalism student’s question about speed of news production cycles today.
Wickham said breaking news is often incomplete and even erroneous. We should all be critical consumers of media, he said. It’s not that journalists are trying to get it wrong but just that the nature of the process of trying to understand and convey the truth about complicated issues and events is messy.
Wickham told students news reporting is like salesmanship. It doesn’t start until someone says no. Reporters get information from the people they know so they have to get to know the right people. When Wickham covered the Simpson trial, he only went to the courthouse twice. Instead of sitting in court every day, he made contacts with clerks of law firms and got information from them. He got to know them and their families.
A student asked Wickham what it was like to interview Obama and other presidents. He said the key is to first talk about what they want, and then eventually move to the tough questions the reporter wants to ask.
Wickham and Jones came to Provo as part of an ongoing exchange program with the BYU School of Communications. Morgan State, a historically black university, has previously hosted BYU faculty. The two programs are working on developing collaborations in which students from each university will travel to the other school for a period of time to engage in mass communication projects.
Miguel Ángel Sánchez is realistic about the challenges faced by journalists but is also optimistic about the future of journalism.
Sánchez is a Panamanian journalist with 20 years of experience who visited the BYU School of Communications on November 6, 2017. He currently serves as president of the National Council of Journalists in Panama and came to Utah for the annual conference of the Inter-American Press Association.
Although Sánchez is well aware of the challenges faced by journalism, including government censorship, threats of violence, changes in the financial model and technological change, he believes the core role of journalists continues to be vital. But both journalists and news consumers must be selective about the media they consume.
“What the journalist has to do is look for ways to publish the truth,” he said while meeting with BYU journalism students. “If a medium gives you the opportunity to publish the truth, use it. If not, look for another one.”
As a leader among Panamanian journalists, Sánchez represents the broad interests of the professional but remains focused on a particular public interest role of journalism.
“We should help the community in general to read news that is deep and important,” he said. “People used to sit down with a newspaper on a bench in the park and read a newspaper because the content was important and deep. Journalists should return to this world of information that is complete and of public interest.”
Sánchez has seen a lot of changes in journalism in the two decades since he started as a radio announcer. He has traveled to China, Cuba and now the United States to study and teach journalistic skills and principles. He says journalists in the past lacked technological tools but that forced them to be precise and focused. Today’s journalists can easily be distracted by tabloid news and social media.
But he still thinks the future for journalism merits optimism as long as the focus remains on how to serve the public where it’s needed. For example, he says, journalists can still bring attention to social problems, even small and local ones like lack of clean water in a community. Journalism still carries heft and credibility with public officials to fix those problems, he said.
Morgan State Professor Visits with Communications Students and Faculty
In March of 2017, the School of Communications had the opportunity to host Morgan State University professor LaMonte Summers. Professor Summers has been a Media Ethics and Law professor at the university’s School of Global Journalism & Communication for over 13 years.
Summers says that one of his favorite classes is Media Ethics and Law, as he enjoys teaching students about the First Amendment and the issues and policies that coincide with it in communications. “I am passionate about the values that underlie the First Amendment and how they are interpreted,” said Summers. “When studying it with students, I try to look at situations that involve people from other cultures and those who live outside of the United States.”
During his visit, Summers was able to visit various communications classes as well as each of the student labs.
“The resources you have here are just phenomenal,” said Summers. “I’ve been to the eye tracking, advertising, and public relations labs. I was also able to witness the newscast at noon. It was great to see the preparation and excitement of the students.”
In talking about his experience in Utah, Professor Summers stated that he wanted to be in an environment that looked at diversity in a different way, not only from a religious standpoint but from a geographical standpoint where the people come from different cultures and parts of the world. Coming from Morgan University, a predominantly African American school, Professor Summers had a number of great insights as to how Morgan Students and BYU students could benefit from interacting with one another.
“Many Morgan students are first-generation college students. They bring a lot of determination, interest, curiosity, and a thirst for knowledge. They want to learn, grow and succeed. Many of them come from backgrounds where their college preparations have been somewhat lacking. You will see students who are hard-working and highly motivated. It can be beneficial for BYU students to interact with Morgan students who bring those characteristics. These experiences can help to broaden perspectives on those from different cultures and backgrounds,” Summers said.
Summers said that he enjoyed his visit and commented that BYU is a “high quality, first rate, first class institution with great facilities. The people are very warm, generous and kind. Everyone is so nice.” Professor Summers is enthusiastic about communications and the faculty connections being made between Morgan State and BYU. He is also hopeful and excited about the kinds of connections that can be built between students in the near future.
Visiting Media Professionals Conduct Spanish Journalism Workshop:
In January 2017, Miriam Ruiz and husband Ivan Martinic, both guests of the School of Communications during the fall semester, conducted a Spanish journalism workshop prior to returning to their home in Chile. Ruiz, a journalism professor at the Universidad del Desarrollo and Martinic, an editor at El Mercurio newspaper in Santiago, taught students that the ability to write in two languages makes a journalist more valuable in the workforce, and developing that skill will give a graduate a leg up on the competition.
Following a lecture on journalism in Latin America, eight News Media students worked with Ruiz and Martinic to research current events in Spanish-speaking countries and then write a news story covering those events. Their grammar, storytelling, and journalism skills were then critiqued and applied further using various workshop activities. Ruiz said BYU is uniquely qualified for bilingual journalism because of how many returned missionaries attend the school and that she is excited to see what they will accomplish in the future.
Myriam Ruiz Silva from the Universidad del Desarrollo presented the first lecture:
In October 2015, journalism Professor Myriam Ruiz Silva from the Universidad del Desarrollo in Santiago, Chile spoke about women in the media. Her lecture focused on the idea that women are generally the minority in news media and in the workforce. She comes to the United States yearly with students to document newsworthy events and to help her students get a different perspective on broadcast media. She was the first lecturer in the Diversity in Media Lecture Series.
Pat Wheeler from Morgan State University presented the second lecture:
In March 2016, the School of Communications welcomed Pat Wheeler, a distinguished guest professor from Morgan State University, in a faculty exchange program in which a communications professor from BYU visited Morgan State. In the several classes and meetings in which she spoke, she was able to share with BYU students her experience and perspective on the importance of communications while encouraging them to be good listeners and writers. Wheeler expressed a desire to return to BYU and to continue the exchange program in future semesters.