Superheroes to the Rescue

by mediachinwag

To see a brighter future for journalism, there are two people you should know: Christopher Callahan and Eric Newton.

Callahan is the visionary dean of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. In the last 10 years he’s turned Cronkite into perhaps the best journalism program in the United States. His record of achievement is mind-blowing, but here are just a few highlights from his ASU biography:

Callahan has brought to the Cronkite School the Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism, the Carnegie-Knight News21 digital journalism initiative, the Society of American Business Editors and Writers and the Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship program for international journalists.

He spearheaded the creation of Cronkite News Service, (a daily statewide news service providing content on all platforms to news organizations), the New Media Innovation Lab (a research and development lab), Cronkite NewsWatch (a nightly newscast that reaches more than 1 million households on PBS), the Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship (where students develop their own digital media products), Cronkite News (a daily news website focusing on statewide issues) and the Cronkite New Media Academy (which provides multimedia training to professional journalists).

Now Newton has joined Callahan’s team as the Cronkite school’s innovation chief. According to ASU’s announcement, Newton “will work closely with the school’s leadership to drive new, cutting-edge ideas and initiatives at Cronkite News, the school’s multiplatform daily news operation. Cronkite News will serve as a test bed for news industry innovations and experimentation while providing critical content to news consumers in Arizona and across the country.”

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Newton comes to Cronkite after an illustrious journalism career including the last 15 years at the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, where he pioneered efforts to, among other things, reform journalism education and bring it into the digital age. His work led to the 2011 Carnegie-Knight Initiative on the Future of Journalism Education, an effort to advance journalism by reinvigorating journalism schools and programs.

Newton knows his stuff. Before joining Knight, he was the founding managing editor of the Newseum in Washington, D.C., and before that was city editor, assistant managing editor and managing editor of the Oakland Tribune. He memorably pinpointed the challenges we face in journalism and journalism education in a talk about the Carnegie-Knight initiative at Middle Tennessee State University in 2013:

We had entered the digital age, and it was a time of plenty and of paradox. More readers, less advertising revenue. More writing, less journalism. More information, less meaning. More opportunity, less predictability.

One point was clear. All institutions, including academia, suddenly were out of date. That created more questions than we had answers. Could universities embrace continuous change? Might journalism and mass communication education have a new role to play in the future of news?

Seven years later, I can tell you the answer is yes. Universities can help lead the way through the era of “creative destruction.” But only if they are willing to destroy and recreate themselves.

And that’s the way it is (sorry, couldn’t resist the Uncle Walter pun), a duo battling like superheros against the odds so that journalism (and journalism education) may live to see another day.

—Scott MacLeod