This is not an exit

Lecture notes | Ed Madison

In Uncategorized on October 18, 2011 at 10:58 am

I’ve been a University of Oregon student for a full four weeks now and I’ve already had a bevy of experiences, the overwhelming majority of which have been positive. Many of my introductory journalism classes have featured guest speakers who teach us something about what it’s like to be a professional in the broadcast, radio, print and online trades. Even though each guest offers different perspectives on the industry, they’ve left me with one key thing: Inspiration.

Consider this the first of many articles. I’m writing these lecture notes as much to convey the messages these professionals are communicating as I am as a means to retain the lessons I learned from them.

I can’t think of anyone better to begin this series with than Ed Madison.

Born into a journalistic family — his father was the first African-American editor for The Chicago Tribune — Ed grew up to be one of the founding producers at CNN. He was 22 when he started with the network. Since then he’s produced award-winning documentaries, founded media enterprises and non-profits and has contributed guest commentaries for The Huffington Post. Mr. Madison is now a graduate teaching fellow at the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communications working toward a doctorate.

Throughout his presentation, Mr. Madison presented us with clips of broadcast journalism’s best works, from Edward R. Murrow (whose reports on Joe McCarthy reminded me of Jon Stewart’s hilarious fact-checking, though obviously a bit more serious) to Walter Cronkite and Ann Curry, another UO J-School graduate.

One thing each of these broadcast professionals had in common was that they weren’t afraid to tackle things head-on, make mistakes and hold themselves accountable. Before airing a series of reports clarifying many of McCarthy’s claims, Murrow offered members of his reporting staff and crew the opportunity to jump ship if they felt there was any muck the administration could dig up on them. In order to remain on the high road, Murrow contended, his staffers had to be absolutely sure they could not be cast in a light that would harm their credibility. This was the best way to shed light on the injustices the senator from Wisconsin was perpetrating during his time in office.

“Journalism has always been about bringing truth to power,” Mr. Madison said.

While the majority of the media Mr. Madison showed us concerned broadcast reporting, the message each professional presented contained equal amounts of determination, refusal to accept anything as impossible and a passion for the work they do. And that kind of ethic transcends industries.

Ann Curry, a UO graduate and current anchor of The Today Show, stressed the importance of accuracy and accountability in a short clip Mr. Madison presented to the class.

“When you say something incorrectly, you can’t just take it back,” she said.

This is the way I’ve felt about the profession for a long time. Even if you print a correction, Curry said, it won’t be seen by everyone who read, watched or heard your original report. Once you make a mistake, there’s a percentage of your audience that’s going to be misinformed and there’s not much you can do about it. But while accuracy should be something journalists strive for, slipping every once in awhile is not the end of the world. After all, everyone makes mistakes. The most important thing, Curry said, is that, as reporters, we keep the public’s interest at heart and respect its right to fair and accurate reports.

“Care about the people who watch and read your work,” she said. “More than your career.”

The last professional we saw in action was Dave Mecham, a field reporter for KTLA in Los Angeles. While Mecham currently works for one of the most highly-rated stations in the L.A., this wasn’t always the case. The man spent 10 years working low-level jobs in Hollywood before he began taking introductory reporting classes. He was 30 before he started in journalism.

“You don’t have to know everything or be the smartest guy in the world,” Mecham said. All you need is the moxie — my words, not his — and the drive to succeed in the industry.

We also learned a bit about students at different levels learning the ins and outs of the industry. From university students developing iPad apps to elementary school kids learning how to use the device and acquiring skills in communication and storytelling. This drove one point home: The journalism industry may be changing, but its core values will always be relevant.

Which brings me to the major takeaways from Mr. Madison’s visit:

– Accountability and accuracy should be the base for everything you do.
– There’s no such thing as “impossible.” There are some things people just don’t know how to accomplished yet.
– It’s never too late to chase a dream. You just need to want it badly enough.
– Always be open to learning something new. The best way to do something changes constantly, especially in journalism.

With that, I’ll leave you with a quote Mr. Madison left on the projector screen for us to conclude his lecture. Steve Jobs left Stanford graduates with this little nugget of wisdom during his commencement speech in 2005:

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

  1. Hello–I have the honor of being Ed Madison’s adviser and I truly appreciate this articulate summary of his lecture. He is truly a valued member of the SOJC. Your insights also show that you are already a valued member of the SOJC as well. Keep up the terrific work and enjoy your time here!

    kim sheehan

  2. Beautifully written piece, you are a talented writer.
    –Melissa, fellow SOJC student.

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