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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.


















Two Years

This week marks two years that I’ve been a dean of one of America’s great Journalism Schools.

I knew it would it would be a new way of life. I didn’t know how much of one.

I laugh at myself some times to realize that I left the world of news at a pivot point of change to enter, years later, the world of higher education that is in the midst of disruption.   Stable, “this-is-the-way-we-do-it” institutions don’t seem to attract me.

There have been more surprises than I expected in these two years at UNC.  Some unnerving:

  1. Scandals in big time sports that have rocked the university’s sense of its identify.
  2. Leadership changes at the very top.
  3. Tight and tighter finances with a legislature unwilling to loosen budget strings in these turbulent times.

But there have also been surprises that are simply exhilarating:

  1. A faculty that is self-motivated and researching areas that are breathtaking to learn about.
  2. Innovation and experimentation underway in ReeseNewsLab and within the VisComm faculty that astounds me.
  3. A tenure culture that may demand more time and work than I ever imagined, but that holds faculty to a standard of research and creativity that doesn’t end when you win tenure.
  4. A staff that loves all things Tar Heel and give and give and give.
  5. Students that are self-starters, good writers, creative, inquisitive, driven and fun to be around.
  6. Alums that open doors to worlds that I know – newsrooms, TV stations, and radio studios. And alums that teach me about new ventures in social media, global strategic communication, entrepreneurship, and start-ups.

I’ve never worked so hard.  The string of emails and the layers of constituencies are complicated and many.  But I feel welcomed into a community of ideas, relationships, commitments and mission. I feel part of the past and am focused always on the future.

Higher education two years and ticking is not for the feint of heart.  It takes your best thinking and your total commitment.

I know that UNC’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication is as good as I thought it was when I left Carnegie Corporation of New York to enter the unknown as dean.  But I also know that with the changes underway in the world of communication, it will not be the same school when I leave.  And it feels very good—two years and ticking— to know I’m with a group of faculty, staff, students and alums that face this change and cheer.

Big Time Sports & Big Time Universities

The Dean Dome Sunday afternoon was not jammed packed for fall graduation the way it was on Saturday night for a face off between UNC TarHeels basketball team and first ranked Kentucky.  But it was festive and powerful.   Parents cheered their graduates.  In fact so much so that they stopped the Chancellor in her tracks, as she was about to say something meaningful to her fist graduating class since she was installed as Chancellor.

Carol Folt proved she knows an audience.  She looked at one section that was in high cheer mode and urged them to match the sound of the Dean Dome the night before when big time sports gripped the building with a sound that deafened and pleased.  The parents and families complied and joined in a round of athletic like enthusiasm and noise.  Then the quiet descended and the Chancellor left the graduates with words that matched the solemnity of their accomplishment.

I was moved by the graduation speech by Carolina’s Kevin Guskiewicz , a professor who has taken the role of a scholar and reminded us why a researcher can have such power in everyday life.  Guskiewicz, the Kenan Distinguished Professor of Exercise and Sport Science and senior associate dean in the College of Arts and Sciences, and whose son is a  Pee Wee football player explained his work and the trouble it can cause.  Guskiewicz has worried about concussions from sports injuries. His work focuses on helmets that can protect brains of athletes. At first the NFL found his work threatening.  Now his studies are changing NFL practice.  That’s research with impact. 

I sat behind Guskiewicz  and I marveled at how lucky I am to be part of higher education at a great research university where students can graduate planning to change the world and where professors already have.

I marveled because I had so enjoyed being part of the University community the night before when big time sports exploded in the same Dean Dome. I am a graduate of a small women’s Catholic College where great teachers prepared us for a world which would greet us with No as women, but who challenged us to say Yes.  I didn’t know from scholars like Guskiewicz or from big time sports.

Scandal, investigations, problems, and questions are troubling college sports of late and I know there are many on campus who think big time sports and scholarship cannot co-exit.  I don’t’ understand all the nuances and complexities of sports and know that money can challenge the ideals of scholar athletes.   But if you read this wonderful article on that Saturday night game, you may feel like I did the power, the emotion, and the fun of a great university‘s big time sports followed by big time education. It’s called the Loudest Ever:

Universities are laboratories of change and imperfect human institutions.  As a dean, I live that every day.  But this weekend I found the power and excitement of being at a place where competition is the coin of the realm and so is achievement.




Scrap the Final Exam

I spent a week experiencing final projects and then one night monitoring a final exam.  No doubt about it , the age-old final exam where the work of the semester is reviewed and tested is passé.  Having teams of students work on a project and present a strategic plan for some media platform or idea, for a business start up, or  a non-profit project clearly is the way to go.

If we want students to learn deeply there is no doubt that semester focused final projects bring all the ideas of a semester into a focused close that stretches students in ways that the Medieval-era academics—who invented the idea of the University—never thought about.

Pedagogy has always been a science that intimidates me.  But experimentation at  UNC’s Center for Faculty Excellence  has discovered that engaging students can advance learning.  Peer learning and team interaction are tools the Center encourages professors use in the classroom.  The Center stresses the idea that practical, hands on, project-learning deepens the intellectual process. When students work in teams rather than singularly in a library setting, they master the skills and remember the concepts.

Journalism and communication has always been about doing.  To learn to write one must write.  To learn to report one must report  To do strategic communication one must strategize.  For years some called journalism simply a craft and there were debates about its intellectual core.  To have pedagogy underline the experiential power of learning is powerful.

And to experience that learning was more than powerful, it was simply exciting.

In our Advertising top level course, JOMC 491.6 Market Intelligence, that Knight Chair JoAnn Sciarrino teaches, I watched as the semester-long experience in brand positioning culminated in a face off between 5 teams of students who had surveyed, analyzed, researched and strategized about how to create a five year plan for our own School of Journalism and Mass Communication that would position the school for tomorrow. Not only were the presentations impressive – from well-conceived and creative PowerPoint’s and videos that would visualize the ideas for a brand – but the students’ poise, confidence, articulation, and salesmanship was jaw dropping.  These weren’t young students trying to impress a teacher with their final project, these were young men and women ready to take on a job and argue for a strategy.

They sounded both job ready and life prepared.

Our Visiting Professor Merrill Rose focused her PR Campaigns JOMC 434 class on creating a national strategy for a client that is San Francisco based and with  whom the class interacted since August.  Rose, a full time Public Relations executive, worked with one of the grantees of her prestigious foundation client to bring real world questions to her students and real world results to the client.   The group of young woman created a complicated Prezi presentation that broke down the dilemma for the non-profit education group and made options simple.   I watched the young women, dressed as professionals, present the strategy in a dynamic and personable way,.  They argued for a value proposition that could advance the non-profit in ways this communication director could never have advanced on is own.  His face changed from the client helping students in a final project, to a professional who realized he was the recipient of great ideas he could build on.

And then there was ReeseNewsLab.  Five  groups pitched new ideas for journalism to a crowded room of skeptics and peers.  The ideas had to be bold and out of the box, and have the possibility of finding a financial figure.  A prison newsletter to engage prisoners in opportunities for their future.  A digital news service that paid readers. A magazine with long form investigative articles on Chapel Hill for the I-Pad.

Students are not students when they are in front of the classroom presenting.    They are professionals in the making.  And they have not simply learned what a professor wanted them to learn—they have reached  past what a professor might have conceived.  They have made the ideas deeply felt, the challenges deeply thought about and the learning forever – not simply for the test.

Scrap those final exams.  Give a final project.

Thanksgiving 2013

There is a power at a University like UNC when the blue skies of Carolina, meet the cold of the season and all those involved in the tradition and education of the past and the present meet to play football.   Thanksgiving is a time when the world stops to be part of family.

Football has always been part of this great American family tradition and this year it all came together at Kennan Stadium for students, and alums and professors and North Carolina fans.

For two hours, the great Duke UNC rivalry took to the field among the pines.  For the first time, I was able to share dreams with alums long gone who love coming back to feel the energy of youth. I could see students relaxed for a last weekend before final projects and exams consume their December.  Parents watched their seniors tick off some of the great 4th year experiences.  Those working for the University carried a dream of winning and beating Duke and winning bragging rights for a the rest of the year.

It’s been a dream season for Duke.  Winning more games than anyone expected and winning respect in all quarters. UNC wasn’t expected to do much but they have been beating al the naysayers, hustling each week and showing intelligence and drive. I’ve found a hero in Ryan Switzer, a freshman with heart and an amazing ability to run close to the ground and miss the tacklers.  I’ve enjoyed every minute of the season, and today it was nothing but great competition.
Oh yes, it would have been better to win  – to have kept the two point lead in the last few minutes of the game.  But winning isn’t what this Thanksgiving weekend needed to be for me.

Having time to stop and enjoy a holiday with my Mom at 90 and my daughter at 22.  To have long cold walks through Chapel Hill’s great greenways with Mike each day.  To share a campus that is committed to the best higher education can offer students.  To do something I care about passionately.  To focus on the best in communication, in journalism that matters with students who not only dream but who work to find their future.  To lead a school with talent among faculty and staff so that if feels like tomorrow is all possibility.  Not much could be better.

Thanksgiving 2013.  A personal time to say a very deep thank you.  Even if Duke won!

Talking Biz

The relationship between business reporters and P.R. sources has long been the grist of journalism conferences.  But there was an interesting twist to the conversation at the Talking Biz one-day conference in Manhattan last week that was organized by UNC J-school Professor Chris Roush, the creator of Taking Biz.

Reporters in or from mainstream media made it clear no one has time to build relationships any more.  An emerging media business editor argued relationships give them an edge.

For AP’S new business editor Kevin Shinkle, the push for getting stories out, making 24/7 deadlines and feeding multiple platforms means lunch with a source is simply an artifact of the past.  “You once knew where PR professionals were coming from and they knew where reporters were coming from.  That is gone.  Now, no one has time.”

Along with Kevin Shinkle of AP, the other working business editor on the panel was at a new web based news organization:  BuzzFeed. 

Peter Lauria, who worked at the New York Post before joining BuzzFeed as business editor, emphasized the need for relationships.    A fast paced web site, Buzz Feed is building an audience that is younger than the traditional business news audience.  Lauria said they want to leverage relationships with companies – both with those in the PR arm of a company and those on the front lines.  As he put it: “We have scoops because we have relationships.”   Scoops are the currency of the realm for on-line news sites like BuzzFeed.

Lauria insisted the hardest part of his job was building the relationships with corporate leaders that Fortune and New York Times always had.  The reason: he must convince big business leaders that a new start-up site like BuzzFeed is worth the time.  “CEOs often dismiss Millennials,” who he explained are the audience for his growing site.  He argued such dismissals were short sighted since Millennials will soon be the recipients of a major transfer of wealth when the baby boom generation passes on their wealth to their children.

Business news is big business these days as computerized investing, the global market, and start-ups change the rules in how business runs.  Bloomberg and Thomson Reuters have gained profits and audience share while traditional leaders in the field have lost pace.  Being fast is critical with information giving investors an edge of seconds that can turn into millions.

The great business reporting pages were represented on the panel – Fortune, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times.  However, the reporters that once worked explaining, covering and spotlighting business were now mostly on the other side advising companies about how to tell their story. Some still worked with reporters as bridges to corporate leaders.  But many of them were now turning to media they could control to influence the global market.  Reporters and business news is still important – perhaps more than ever – but in a different way.

I left with two big take-aways from the strong panel that Talking Biz and Roush put together:  old successful business journalists are now strategists for corporate America which may be a real boost for American business.  And business journalism is the new frontier for start-ups like BuzzFeed.

It wasn’t a good news/bad news, dire situation kind of a discussion – it was one that revealed all the change underway.  And, it proved the hunger for information and understanding is alive and well.

For newsies like me – that seems like a good thing.

What Makes A Woman Leader?

What makes a woman leader?  Especially in the very competitive world of Television News?

We asked CNN’s Brooke Baldwin to answer that question.

 There was standing room only at the special UNC JOMC Women in Media Leadership talk timed for parents’ weekend and they were all anxious to hear the answer.    There were lots of young women of ambition in the audience, but also quite a few men and curious parents.

Brooke Baldwin is the 34 year-old anchor of CNN’s daily 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. news program. She brought her energy, verve, intelligence, drive, passion, ambition, honesty and impressive career to the stage.  She didn’t have a secret answer to the question of why she has won a slot on the national stage only a dozen years after her graduation.  But it was clear that this was no lucky break.

She isn’t a leader because she is tall and quite beautiful.  Both of which she is.   Her passion for her job and her determination to succeed came through loud and clear.  But it was the fact she does her homework that convinced me she makes success happen.  Before she does a story or tackles an issue, Brooke floods the zone: learning all she can so that she doesn’t come up short in the interview or in the inevitable moment when the guest’s mike goes dead, the live shot dies, the plans don’t pan out. Brooke always comes prepared.

Brooke was generous with her praise for the school of Journalism and the skills she learned while at UNC.  She was active in the Carolina Week TV News program that launched her reporting and anchoring style and to which she gives much credit.  But it was the tough criticism that she remembers most  – not the accolades or the big fun moments.

As she told the story on the stage with her professor who gave her a “C” for her first news package, you could still feel the disappointment of the 20 year old.  The feelings of not being the best were still fresh in her memory.   Year’s ago she left Dr. T’s office—T as in Charlie Tuggle—and cried buckets.  That setback however, may have been her best lesson.

Brooke Baldwin didn’t want to be average, or only good enough.  She proved she was competitive and could work hard.  She never looked back.  That C was the rallying experience that led her to step up her game and to end the semester with a top grade.  That experience also convinced her to see she would always have to push the limits if she was going to meet her own expectations and the expectations of the TV world.

Brooke Baldwin is in her fourth stop on her television career.  She started at a small station in Charlottesville, Virginia, moved from there to West Virginia, then to Washington, D.C.  She has been in Atlanta and at CNN for just over five years.  Her drive convinces me that she will be a fixture on the big stories of our time and a television journalist we’ll be watching for many years.  She shared her warmth, her lessons and her love of the business with every one in the audience. Not just from the stage, but with every young journalist that came to talk with her.

What makes Brooke Baldwin a leader?  The fact that not only is she interested in doing well, but she is interested in giving back.  Brooke is a leader who listens, inspires and believes you bring along others with you.

You can see that style for yourself on our U-Tube channel: