McGuire on Media

Cronkite School is the best place for me now

I love where I am now.  I am really happy I am not where I used to be.

This particular week of events and news makes me savor the pleasures of academia and mourn the plight of former colleagues.

My current work home at the Walter Cronkite School at Arizona State University is celebrating Cronkite Week as we speak. A number of panels presented by faculty and visitors will be capped by the annual Cronkite luncheon on Friday. This year’s honorees are Jim Lehrer and Robert MacNeil, the PBS news anchor team. The luncheon coincides with the 25th anniversary of the school and the dedication and grand opening of our beautiful new facility in downtown Phoenix.

This past Sunday the Arizona Republic Viewpoints section presented a two page spread on the new school, its aggressive posture for the future and its imaginative approach for the future of journalism education.  Dean Christopher Callahan laid out his vision crisply and clearly. Being a part of that vision, and being a part of helping students figure out journalism’s future, is a great thrill.

But there’s more to it than the joy of participating in making this school the hottest journalism school on the planet.  In that same Arizona Republic package there was a wonderful story by a junior at ASU named Megan Thomas.  Megan wrote about her experience with Cronkite News Service. As you read the piece you will notice an inquiring, humble young woman who is realizing she has genuine talent and ability.  Just writing about the piece makes me teary-eyed.

See, I had Megan for two classes last year. I could see a gifted writer and a big-league thinker, but she was SO tentative. I wrote on several of her papers something to this effect: ” Megan you have all the talent in the world, but I fear the only person in the world who doesn’t realize that is Megan!” Under the tutelage of Steve Elliott, our outstanding director of Cronkite News Service, Megan is realizing that talent. Helping young people like Megan, and scores of others, find and develop their abilities at the same time they figure out how they will fit into the changing journalism eco-system is a genuine calling.

And then I read the industry news and discover my alma mater, the Star Tribune is facing even more dramatic cuts in 2009. I can honestly say the newspaper’s plight is now beyond my imagination.  After being near the seat of power for 23 years and having a pretty good understanding of every nook and cranny of that business I find it truly frightening to imagine what my friends and successors are going through.

As I said on a panel Tuesday night, the newspaper business I knew is a fond memory and I feel painfully disconnected.  After just six years away from the daily newspaper fray the depths of the struggles are impossible for me to grasp.  I still second-guess just a tad and I worry about the choices that are being made at all newspapers, but I do not have any misconceptions about the waves of change that have hit my former brethren. I know they are dealing with crises of which I never dreamed.

As if the Star Tribune news wasn’t depressing enough, now analysts are predicting all sorts of horrible things for the stock of my other alma mater, McClatchy Inc.  Thanks to my financial adviser who demanded I diversify I have no personal stake in the dramatic decline of the stock from $74 a share to $1.51 a share. That does not make the decline any more enjoyable. Again, second-guessing in this environment would be dumb and dumber. My emotions are more like shock and awe.  It is incredible to me that an industry that gave me a certain level of financial independence, fulfilled my soul and made my life meaningful is now struggling for its very existence. It makes me profoundly sad. I do not envy the intolerably difficult decisions McClatchy executives and other industry leaders have to make in these traumatic times.

And that’s why I am happy I am where I am and not where I used to be.