Two years ago the University of Kansas announced it was converging the newsroom of the campus newspaper, The Daily Kansan, with the newsroom of KUJH TV. At the time it seemed like a good idea given the retirement of longtime TV newsroom leader Dick Nelson. Newspaper reporters need to be exposed to the use of video cameras and editing video. Plus, goodness knows the TV students needed to be exposed to the great writing that comes from the Kansan.
Then in the 1980's the university woke up and started hiring some great educators with deep ties to the University of Missouri's wonderful television journalism program to bulk of K.U.'s rather meager offerings. That's right, I'm praising Mizzou. They've got the best TV news program in the country.
By the beginning of the 1990's K.U.'s TV news program was hitting on all cylinders putting out very good reporters, producers and photographers that were on a par with the students coming out of Columbia, Missouri. The last time I walked into Dick Nelson's newsroom classroom three or so years ago, before his retirement, the program was in full bloom.
Last week I made my first pilgrimmage to Dole Hall, which is home to the television program, in at least three years. As I stepped up to the second floor and looked into the huge window which shows the KUJH newsroom I thought, what the fuck? It was 9 a.m. on a Monday morning and there wasn't a soul in sight.
I wandered down the hallway where the faculty has their offices hoping to find my old friends Max Ustler or John Broholm to get an explanation, but I came across an old high school classmate now officed in Dole. I stopped to say hi and introduce myself to Mike Williams, who obviously didn't recognize me (and why should he) and asked for a quick rundown on what was happening.
Mike comes from a print background so him being officed in Dole, while surprising, led me to be that the convergence was at work. And that was exactly the problem. As Mike explained, it hadn't. The print and TV students didn't play well together, but more accurately, the faculty that was supposed to lead them to this promised land of convergence didn't. Not only is The Daily Kansan on life support, but the TV news program barely has a pulse.
K.U. has a great faculty. But the faculty is only as good as its leadership. The problem is the push to turn the journalism program into a research program. K.U. made its bones as a place to learn how to be a great reporter, editor, producer or even a media salesman. It was never a place about theory. But that's not what the top dogs at K.U. want. Okay, I can live with that and the University of Kansas can live without my meager donations.
The newspaper business is dying. I don't know what the end game will be but the need for great reporters who know how to write a great story will exist even on the Internet. The death of television news will take a lot longer. Too much of what we do as TV journalists translates directly to the web. While print journalists can do amazing things with graphics on the web, video is still the name of the game and that's an area where the TV folks dominate.
K.U.'s J-School Dean Ann Brill needs to wake up and fix the TV news program. Dick Nelson's retirement was the first blow. Failing to find an experienced replacement was the second. The third will be when Professors like Broholm and Ustler retire and the Missouri influence which brought a heartbeat to the TV program will flatline.
I'm pissed off.