McGuire on Media

‘Peanuts and Crackerjacks’ and other projects that make me “belong” at the Cronkite School

When I retired as editor of the Star Tribune in Minneapolis in 2002, many of my colleagues, pals and enemies were convinced I would desperately miss the fray.  Some opined I would not be able to live without being “in charge.” Others argued removing me from the excitement of the daily news helter skelter would be like extracting my lung. Some had the audacity to contend I was a “stress junkie.”

I coped well with the absence of all those things during the next few years, but when Dean Chris Callahan approached me about taking the Frank Russell Chair here at the Cronkite School there was one motivation behind my acceptance. It turned out what I really missed was belonging to something vital and important.

This week I’ve watched joy, accomplishment, scholarship and innovation come together in ways that make me genuinely excited to be a part of what The Cronkite School is doing.

Take at a look at this Peanuts and Crackerjacks site on JS Online the web site for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.  It is incredibly cool and it’s the product of seven Cronkite School students working with long-time USA Today Sports Journalist Greg Boeck.

Several months ago Cronkite Dean Chris Callahan got a gleam in his eye about using the Cronkite school’s proximity to the Cactus League to create a program for our sports writer students. He approached our old friend Marty Kaiser, the Editor at the Sentinel, and they hatched ‘Peanuts and Crackerjacks.’

Seven students are getting college credit and the experience of a lifetime covering big-leaguers. The Sentinel is able to supplement the work of their high quality, long-time baseball writer, Tom Haudricourt with the off-beat, intense coverage only enthusiastic students can offer.

It is the kind of innovative partnership universities need to forge with the industry. Read this profile of Andrew Gruman and you get a sense of what those means for our students. I get a huge kick out of that and it reinforces my joy in belonging to an institution that can create that kind of experience for students.

But that’s not the only example. In the last few days I’ve chuckled as I watch several graduate students bouncing off walls in anticipation of their in-depth reporting trip to the Dominican Republic next week. My long-time friend and McClatchy colleague Rick Rodriquez, along with Jason Manning, will lead a crew of 16 graduate student reporters and photographers on a nine-day trip to explore the border difficulties between Haiti and the Dominican Republic and several other viable story ideas in the Republic.

Our students will be exposed to tough foreign reporting conditions as they learn from two consummate pros. It’s going to be an experience the students will never forget.  More importantly, the things they learn on this trip will inevitably shape their reporting careers for years to come.

When many of them stop by my office to share their anticipation, I can’t help but think about all the jaded journalists who would benefit so deeply from witnessing their inspiring enthusiasm. They remind me of what is good and genuine about our craft.

I have found colleagues can fuel my pride in “belonging to something” too.  My friend, Professor Joe Russomanno, has centered his academic study for the last many months on the Westboro Baptist Church. Yesterday’s court decision is a bit like his graduation. He has invested incredibly in studying the debate, analyzing the court case and interviewing the principals. He knows just about all there is to know about the case and tonight he is appearing on our local Public Television public affairs program, Horizon, to discuss that knowledge.

For months Joe has been in suspended animation waiting for a verdict in the case. Now he can effectively employ all that knowledge to enrich us all on an emotional and crucial public policy case. That’s neat.

Maybe I am becoming a sentimental old fool. Or perhaps I have finally learned to fully appreciate other people’s great joy and accomplishment. I think that comes with “belonging to something.”

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