Alumni, Faculty Offer Advice & Perspective


Neil Brown (BA ’81) President, Poynter Institute for Media Studies
Neil Brown (BA ’81). Brown is currently President at Poynter Institute for Media Studies.

“It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive, but those who can best manage change.” -Charles Darwin

People tend to adapt to their environment, and for a journalist, that environment is in constant change. From directing the school to managing top newsrooms, they haven't ceased learning about their growing field.

With their experitse and experience, these journalism alumni and former faculty share what surprised them about their current work, what changes they see for the future of journalism, and what advice they have for alumni and current students.

Neil Brown (BA ’81)

President, Poynter Institute for Media Studies

Member of the Pulitzer Prize Board

Former Editor, Tampa Bay Times

SJMC Hall of Fame member inducted in 2009

Fact-checking has exploded on the journalism scene. I’m also pleased that, thanks to database journalism and digital tools, fact-checking is essentially a web-first phenomenon. It’s a great mix of old-school journalism combining with smart new technologies.

With the polarization that is so deep in our country, we all need to be active and smart consumers of information and understand how attacks on the media and partisan bickering threatens to undermine a free society.

Brown’s advice: Try creating lots of websites, papers, and podcasts. And don’t be cynical about the work or pessimistic about the business. It’s an exciting time to be a journalist. When you’re a part of something so important, the future is bright, even in difficult times. And finally, travel if you can. We all need to be less insular, and travel is a good way to widen the field of vision.

Maudlyne Ihejirika (BA ’85)

Urban Affairs Reporter; Assistant City Editor, Chicago Sun-Times

There was a time when a B.A. in journalism and one or two college internships would suffice. But journalists today must possess photography, videography, and social media skills in a field where the digital realm is gaining more light with advertisers and consumers, and thus must do more with less.

I expect the industry to continue constricting so that only the strongest news entities survive, and I expect those entities to continue to reinvent themselves as the digital landscape consumes the central media.

Ihejirika’s advice: If had I to do it over again, I would double major in political science since every journalist needs to be savvy in this area. I also would expand my college journalism focus beyond print, to broadcast and visual skills.

Maudlyne Ihejirika.

Judy Polumbaum

Professor Emerita, University of Iowa SJMC

I’m somewhat surprised—but even more dismayed—that so many Americans believe claims that actual, serious well-documented reports about current affairs are “fake news.”

Bear in mind that keeping up with technological changes is not simply learning the specifics of the moment, but in a much broader sense, exercising your abilities at “learning to learn.”

Polumbaum’s advice: Even as you acquire facility with the constantly changing technological bells and whistles for collecting news, continue to work really, really hard at the fundamentals—which are thorough, accurate reporting and clear, lucid writing/expression.

Roger Thurow (BA ’79)

Author; Senior Fellow, Chicago Council on Global Affairs

Reporter/Foreign Correspondent, The Wall Street Journal, 1980-2010

SJMC Hall of Fame member inducted in 2006

In a demanding 24-hour news cycle, I’m seeing the emergence (or return) of “slow journalism.” This focuses on reporting over time to develop issues and characters, to savor place, dialogue, anecdote, and depth in longer-form, narrative journalism.  At least I hope that’s what I’m seeing because journalism—and the news-consuming public—really needs it.

A greater knowledge of a particular part of the world, an expertise of a certain culture, and fluency in a foreign language—all will be of immense help. I hope demand will build for the long-form journalism that’s vital to understanding our world.

Thurow’s advice: I’d say to students, take advantage of the university environment to learn about new places and ideas from students and faculty from different background and countries. As you look for jobs, consider organizations involved in humanitarian work and international development. Here, there may be a chance for adventure and to explore the human condition. 

Roger Thurow. (The Daily Iowan)

Ken Starck

University of Iowa SJMC Director 1975-1986 and 1990-1996

SJMC Hall of Fame member inducted in 2005

I’m surprised to see skepticism from consumers—and so much reliance on a tweet-size news diet. What is necessary today and for the future of this field is for journalists to protect democracy—and for democracy to protect journalists.

Starck’s advice: I’d advise journalists to get a broad liberal arts education and prepare themselves for many career changes. As for new graduates, be even more skeptical.

Bonnie Brennen (PhD ’93)

Nieman Professor of Journalism at Marquette University

SJMC Hall of Fame member inducted in Fall 2015

It’s surprising how difficult it is for citizens to distinguish authentic journalism reports from lies, propaganda, and/or fake news. I think we are seeing the beginning of a new “golden era” for investigative journalism, much like what happened as a result of the Watergate Investigation.

Brennen’s advice: For current students to new alumni, I encourage them to cultivate in-person networking relationships. While social media “friendships” may be easier to develop, building in-personal relationships will set you apart from others. And hand-written thank you notes are always appreciated.

Bonnie Brennen.

Pamela J. Creedon

University of Iowa SJMC Director 2002-2007

Acting Dean of the College of Communication and Media Sciences, Zayed University

I didn’t expect journalism to become no longer distinct. While media storytelling is available to everyone, it appears accuracy is no longer the bottom line. The online 24/7 global sharing of information has incredible value, but the credibility distinction between fact and fiction or accuracy and opinion appears to have been lost. The morning news is now an analysis of a presidential opinion on Twitter.

Creedon’s advice: We are in mediamorphosis. We’re not talking about future change for the journalism field because it’s changing every second. Today’s SJMC students will be the key to help us find a way to reinvigorate news values.