The Legacy of An Idea

It’s about a decade since the idea of News21 surfaced among strong deans at some of America’s great journalism schools at great American research universities.
News21 was an idea that would give support and wings to student ideas around serious journalism and new ways to engage audiences. News 21 would live at the J schools and create new laboratories for change that could influence the industry.

Failure—either in project ideas or in execution—was allowable. The financial collapse of news organizations didn’t allow wild ideas to take root. Failure was not an option. But at universities, experimentation is the coin of the realm and Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Knight Foundation believed experimentation was a must in journalism.

I was there at the beginning. When Eric Newton of Knight and I thought the deans had hit on something exciting with the idea of summer well-funded incubators for in-depth reporting and experimentation at great journalism schools. Ten years later, I am now a dean at one of the schools that continues that summer incubator for serious reporting.

I realize I am biased. I think UNC’s J-school and its Powering the Nation, an energy-focused version of News21(that continues even after the foundation support has ended), is sustainable and worth the effort. This summer’s focus on the hog industry and its potential as both a way of life and an energy source re-enforced the power of the idea. Whole Hog is another great year of reporting and of pushing the envelope.

When I read this article about a recent UNC Masters Degree grad from UNC, I felt double-y proud: at the legacy of the idea behind News21 and at what Powering the Nation and graduates like Josh Davis have been able to do.

But don’t read me – read what I discovered in this interview in Ochre by a young journalist. She was at a crossroads in her life and wanted to know where real journalism innovation lives—at the University or in the news industry? Her question: Who Leads?

Made my heart leap to find that idea ten years ago has created a legacy in terms of work and in terms of talent. At Carnegie and Knight we bet on the pipeline of a new generation of young journalists – we bet right.



Los Jets

I sat behind the team. Los Jets. Handsome high school athletes from Siler City, North Carolina. They were dressed for a premiere. Clean shirts. Nice slacks. Big smiles.

It was the premiere of Los Jets. The NUVOtv production about the soccer team at Siler City, North Carolina’s Jordan Matthews High School.

It was a joy to see them respond to a film about them. They laughed. They cheered. They sat transfixed. This wasn’t just a great sports film – and it is. Believe me I cheered when the film showed Los Jets winning points and carrying a game. This was a film about today’s America. It’s a story of struggle, of discrimination, of determination, of success. It is as old as Horatio Alger. American dream meets reality. The dream wins.
I sat in the Fed Ex Global Auditorium Friday night alternately entranced and entertained. You must know I am a softie for sports films. I love the stark battle of winning and loosing that sports offers. Other competitions are less stark, more ambiguous.   I loved the Los Jets TV series when the story was focused on the “win”.

To watch the chapter where the opposing school’s fans sat in the stands and harassed the Siler City young men—telling them to go back home to where they belonged and making derogatory remarks about their Latino culture was infuriating and humiliating. It’s hard to think white North Carolinians like me could be so cruel. I was pleased that the filmmakers distorted the faces of those offending fans. I didn’t want to identify with them. The Los Jets team didn’t let those embarrassing gringos keep them off their game…they won that night and I just beamed. It was a sports movie with all the satisfaction.

But there were so many other TV chapters in the series that really resonated and stayed with me. The story of one young man whose parents thought “it was safe” for him to cross the border and reunite with them when he was 7. The crossing was not safe. He cried on camera remembering.

Americans who leave home for America have always sacrificed it all for the opportunity to begin again, to start fresh, to breathe opportunity. This young Los Jets athlete followed his parents and the pain was very real. Dreams are not the same as reality.

As well, the video chapters on the aspirations and hopes of the athletes who wanted to go to college dug deep into my heart. SAT morning was full of the fear and the anticipation. No one likes those college board tests, but some are more prepared than others. English as a second language, the lack of math from the first grade on, doesn’t make succeeding at SATs easy. Watching the soccer athletes come to UNC and feel the power of the campus, the beauty of this historic place that has always offered its North Carolina students opportunity, was so evident. As well, the difficulty of these young athletes’ desire was all too palatable. As I watched, I wanted to make college happen for them. But the students needed to make it real for themselves and it was unclear to me that they had what is demanded to get into UNC and to receive the scholarships and support they needed.

Los Jets is an amazing program. It has all the elements of great TV. Entertainment. Context. Human stories. Drama. Suspense.   Pathos. Los Jets was better than I could have imagined – and I read the wonderful book by my colleague Paul Cuadros, A Home on the Field, that inspired the program. I left the movie moved. I left entertained. I left in wonder of Jennifer Lopez.   Her company produced the TV series and it’s clear to me she understands communications. She has put her name, her notoriety and her production company behind a program that is so much more than my beloved sports movies.
Los Jets is truly a story about America today. It is a story of the 21st Century immigrant in America. It is also UNC School of Journalism and Mass Communication Professor Paul Cuadros’ story.
Paul won’t be the same kind of journalism professor anymore. He is activist; he is educator; he is journalist and he is a national success.   Los Jets is not simply his project anymore. It is a video/television experience.   And it is powerful.





D-Day Courage

D-Day has been an experience in courage. Traveling with UNC alums for the 70th Anniversary of perhaps the 20th Century’s most critical battle, I have been touched, challenged and inspired by the courage of so many who fought to liberate France and then Europe.

We traveled to both sides of the operation, to the headquarters of Dwight Eisenhower at Southwick House along England’s southern coastwhere he led the planning for the Allied Supreme Command. It wasn’t an easy plan;   It involved thousands of men, tanks, and planes. All had to be coordinated with an understnding of tides and weather. Seeing the war room, and understanding the complexity of the command, the dynamics of egos and the cultural differences between American and British armies, I experienced the courage of a leader who had to make the final decision.

It must have been very lonely to make the call two nights before the Dday operation began. General Dwight D. Eisenhower knew thousands of young men would be sent to their death in a push to end Hitler’s prance across Europe .

This trip was not simply a visit to war zones, it was a university focused trip to understand one of the free world’s most important historic moments. And to bring a perspective, the university tour invited an historian with a personal perspective, David Dwight Eisenhower, the grandson of the general. David Eisenhower is a professor at the University of Pennsylvania. His wife, Julie Nixon Eisenhower ,who has had a front row seat in history as well, joined the trip.

The young Eisenhower wrote a history of D-Day that was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. He is a student of the military moves and the political challenges of this June 1944 mission. He has examined all the records, seen his grandfather’s journal and examined the record. His narrative on the mission and its impact on the free world was detailed and passionate.

It caught me off guard when the grandson would talk about his grandfather as Eisenhower. But the historian had viewed the general—and the man who became president—through the lens of an historian   David admired the courage it took to mount the campaign and needed as an historian to document and interrupt it as a professional, not as a relative. But the unique insight came for me when he talked about personal memories. The fact his grandfather wouldn’t talk about the war or D-Day – that the memory was too painful. Clearly, that was part of the reason David Eisenhower was drawn to understanding what courage meant at D-Day
I felt it took a certain personal courage to wade into this history. The grandson of a president has a place in the public eye and often cannot compete with such a giant of history.

















Jill Abramson

I never thought she got the big time job at The New York Times because she had an easy personality. She is not a back slapper. She is not gregarious. She is not the woman with the right word for everyone.
I figured Jill Abramson got it because her news sense is laser focused and smart. Because she has been through news wars and been victorious. Because she understood power and used it smartly. Because she loved The New York Times and realized it had to invent the modern strong news organization. Digital is its future. She was brave enough—I figured—to take the risks to make the 20th Century top newspaper the 21st Century top news organization.

The fact she was also a woman made me proud.

I figured we were finally smart enough. Tough enough. Experienced enough.

Like most women I was proud that she was offered, accepted and appeared to thrive in the most prestigious and difficult job in the news world I know – Executive Editor of The New York Times.

And this weekend I’m worn out – that it doesn’t seem to be enough. All the talk about pay discrimination. Woman as Victim. The need for temperament in management jobs.

I had trouble getting my first job in TV news because there was a debate about whether the public would believe a woman. Whether a woman’s voice was authoritative enough. No one ever asked that after I broke a few stories. They didn’t’ ask after I held my own in the newsroom or after I brought the public stories that mattered. Women liked getting their news from other women. And no one wondered whether I had authority.

Management however is a different thing. Most of the really big news and media jobs are men’s jobs. Women are in the newsroom and in the corporation. But fewer women are pulling the strings. Women’s leadership is still a matter for debate.

And being a tough leader and a demanding boss fits a man a lot better than it fits most people’s perception of a woman. Consensus building is a leadership quality that many feel women excel at. Some argue in a 21st Century economy consensus is a must. But no organization works only from consensus. You have to build consensus—but in the end if you are at the top—you must be tough. Jill was tough. No one doubts that.

I saw with amusement the back page advertisement of The New York Times Week in Review section today with the new version of Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In. It is called Lean In for Graduates.   The ad says: “A handbook that offers instruction and inspiration for the next generation – with six new chapters full of essential advice for entering a competitive job market.”

I am the dean of a Journalism school that is dominated by women as are most. I am at UNC where, like most institutions of high education, women also outnumber men. Women’s leadership is not a short term “hot news item.”   Women are graduating in powerful numbers and will be taking over the top rungs of every office, school, university, non-profit and corporation in American in the next 25 years. This weekend I am not sure what to tell them.
I don’t’ know why Jill Abramson was really let go. But I know it isn’t because she isn’t good at what she does. The paper is as good if not better than it was. If it is because she was too tough – that’s a problem for every newswoman I know and just about every women in charge of anything.

Lean In. Lean Out. I’m really surprised—and rather tired— that this is an issue on our agenda Circa 2014.






It’s the season for goodbyes on campus. Graduation next week will send off more than 400 Journalism undergraduates and about 35 masters and PhDs. They all head to the next stop.  It’s a wonderful sense of goodbyes for most. New adventures. New cities. New jobs. New challenges.
And in the midst of the goodbyes are awards—awards and awards and more awards. You feel the power of recognition in those accomplishments. I don’t believe that awards are the measure of a life. But this season students in the school have won so many peer reviewed scholarly research paper submissions and national professional competitions, that I am truly moved by the sense of accomplishment. Not just our students’ accomplishments, but those who got them to this point: faculty mentors and coaches.
Last week we learned JOMC students won a first place Webby, second Place National Sports Emmy, a first place finish in regionals and a follow up bid to the National Student Advertising Competition’s championship in Boca Raton, and three national Mark of Excellence radio first place finishes. I’m sure there are more wins, I am just having trouble keeping track of the drumbeat of success.

There were some major goodbyes this week. Bill Cloud who left a successful career in the news business to join the school as professor of journalism and a pied piper of editing skills said his goodbyes. He followed a series of UNC professors who came out of newspapers and drilled accuracy, grammar and writing with comas and clarity into their students. He was an evangelist for new technology but admitted the advent of twitter and mobile first and all things digital was daunting for the most open of professors who attempts to prepare students for every platform’s demands.

And a final goodbye. A few hundred showed up on a glorious Carolina Saturday afternoon to say goodbye to Chuck Stone, a professor for 14 years at the school,   Stone’s career as a newsman and columnist spanned the entire drama of the civil rights movement. He covered everyone from Martin Luther King to Malcolm X , was a White House correspondent and a Capital Hill aid to Adam Clayton Powell, and a columnist who defined an era of Philadelphia. In Chapel Hill he turned students into citizens of the world and made them laugh and think. Students of his flew in from as far away as Miami to pay tribute to a teacher who pushed reporters to be audacious and truthful.

After all the tributes by colleagues, and institutions and leaders, Chuck Stone’s son Charles Stone III said the final goodbye and stole the show.   The resume didn’t mean as much to him as his father’s gift of swing: the ability to live in the moment, in the zone, in the space where improvisation soars.   Chuck Stone was a man of huge accomplishments. For his son, the magical moments with his Dad were the true accomplishments.

Goodbyes can be sad when one doesn’t experience them regularly. However, at a University, every spring season brings goodbyes. It is part of the cycle of change and continuity that keeps a school alive to the present, aware of its history and pointed to the future.

I hate goodbyes. But in a Carolina week like this I find myself energized by the power of touching lives as they begin, as they change and as they celebrate accomplishments and lives well lived.





Napoleon and Queenie

It’s hard to believe that a young first year student from Charlotte named Napoleon would move to Chapel Hill for college in the early 1970s and find another North Carolina student with as memorable a name as his—Queenie—with whom he would create a lasting partnership. But it’s true.
This is a Chapel Hill love story – and much more.

Napoleon and Queenie Byars celebrated their retirement this week. The are leaving the School of Journalism from which they both graduated. No amount of jawboning would get them to stay. They leave with the sound of cheering in their ears. They leave on their own terms.

They always have.

When they left Chapel Hill upon graduation they got married and joined the Air Force. This was not a season of patriotism. The U.S. had evacuated Vietnam yet the sting of that war was strong. The tensions between those serving the country and the public real. Both traveled the world for the military, worked in public affairs, as editors of the Stars and Stripes and as information officers in various ports of call. They came to Washington and worked at the highest ranks of the Pentagon. They both retired as Colonels.

Success wasn’t enough for them. Challenges called. So did North Carolina. First Napoleon began teaching public relations at UNC   Then Queenie did.   Their classes always had waiting lists. They both had real world experiences and the drive to share what they know with students, but that wasn’t the reason that students signed up for their classes.

They each gave something different to the students – their own experience of the art and science of persuasion and public communications. But they also shared the same thing with students. A genuine interest in a student’s life, dreams, and frustrations. Napoleon and Queenie have shared a life, and a career, and a philosophy that translates into a bond with students that is real. Word got around: “You want to take at least one course with the Byars while you are the J-school.” This year when word got out of their retirement, I had students beg to get into their classes.

I’m trying to understand what makes the difference in a professor that is successful and one that transforms lives. It’s academic integrity. It’s intellectual complexity. It’s charismatic and inspirational teaching. Watching the Byars this year, who have all the above, I’ve decided the difference they have is the commitment to the soul of a student. They don’t just meet and challenge young Tar Heels with dreams like they had in the 1970s. They listen, coach, care about, and become part of the stories of the students they teach, mentor and track.

I said this is a Chapel Hill love story. It’s about Napoleon and Queenie who found each other and a meaningful way of life at America’s first public university.

And it is also about what can happen on a campus inside and outside a classroom when men and women of substance pursue ideas, knowledge, understanding and justice and commit to building new generations of leaders.

As a dean, I don’t want this Napoleon and Queenie story to end this year. University life is often quantified in such one-dimensional ways – papers, accomplishments, grades and awards. I have found through Napoleon and Queenie something so much richer academically.

Their own transformation from young North Carolina kids to graduates and national leaders. And on return to the University, their ability to work with students who were often outsiders, unsure, or tentative and make them see what can happen when you study, experience, risk and learn about the world and then, put your mark on it.

Chapel Hill is not simply a place. Napoleon and Queenie introduced me to the idea behind this great institution – with rigor, exploration and values lives are changed.





Chuck Stone

Just a week ago I told a colleague. I want to meet him. Chuck Stone was the kind of man and journalist one had to experience. Not simply read about.

This morning I learned I never would meet Chuck Stone – his illness had won out.

I immediately turned to YouTube where interviews live and where the sound of Chuck Stone’s voice, the twinkle in his eye and his sartorial splendor will stay vivid. It’s a short news story about the election of Barack Obama and it is worth watching. Chuck Stone looks young and vigorous and optimistic.

All day I’ve read thoughts, and jottings and memories of J-school faculty who worked with Chuck Stone. There wasn’t simply sadness on the faculty listserv today. There was joyous remembering:

Only a handful of people I have met in my life truly had the ability to inspire. Chuck was one of those extraordinary people. I will cherish my memories of him. 

                                                                                                                                 John Sweeney

Another big timber has fallen in the forest.

I am sitting in haloed ground this morning; Shu’s former office, where he and Chuck carried on, cussed and laughed. 

And at Chuck’s passing, I recall his great lesson at a J-53 Mid-Week Special from years back…(paraphrased here) …that ‘multiculturalism” isn’t just one race putting up with another…it’s that we should all be celebrating one another. 

Jock Lauterer

He was one of the first people to welcome me to Carolina…. so accomplished, yet so unassuming. I’ll never forget him.

                                                                                                                                    Charlie Tuggle

Although we are sad to hear the news, there is much to celebrate in the life of Chuck Stone and his many accomplishments. He (Chuck) was an original—a Tuskegee Airman, a publisher and editor, founding father of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) and the Carolina Association of Black Journalists (CABJ), a member of the N.C. Journalism Halls of Fame, and more accolades—too many to cite here.

Napoleon was interviewed by the DTH for his thoughts on Chuck Stone and his wonderful legacy of fighting for diversity and the rights of all citizens. “We will remember him as an original whose life was committed to advancing diversity in all its forms,” Napoleon commented. “Chuck was a role model for us all—in the classroom and in life.”                                     

Queenie Byars

Chuck Stone, Citizen of the World.

We were “family” from the first day he arrived. Our shared admiration of all-things-Andy-Griffith led us to take the “Andy Griffith Appreciation Course” at Alamance Community College about 3 months after he arrived. What a class that was!

                                                                                                                                            Jo Bass

Chuck liked to quote scripture, and his favorite, as I recall it, was from Timothy II:     “I have fought a good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith.”

Would make a good epitaph.

                                                                                                                                         Phil Meyer

Visitors to the assisted living home he was living in these last few years found that Chuck Stone had moments of real laughter and memory, but also moments where he couldn’t remember. Today, many who knew him—and those of us who didn’t—will feel again the optimism of a journalist and educator who brought a vision of diversity and its power to life. That optimism and promise lives on in the students who have competed and won a place in the summer program that bears his name. The Chuck Stone program. This summer he won’t be with them – but I am certain that his power and passion will.

Chuck Stone’s spirit and impact isn’t diminished in death. It’s shared with young diverse students who seek a place in the American dream.