The next miracle (v11.1): Owen Youngman

Knight Professor of Digital Media Strategy, Medill / Northwestern

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Welcome to Medill, Class of 2016

Northwestern's Class of 2016

Arriving freshmen, from Northwestern’s Facebook page

The beginning of the school year is upon us, and the hallways here at Northwestern seem almost as full of incoming students as Sheridan Road [note to self: this is the time of year to consistently and cheerfully drive 10 miles per hour in Evanston]. In fact, I was invited to deliver brief remarks to Medill’s incoming freshman class at the dean’s convocation today, Sept. 21; here they are.

On behalf of the entire Medill faculty, I want to add my voice to those welcoming you to Evanston, to Northwestern, and to Medill. We think you made a good choice, and based upon what we know about you so far, we think Northwestern made a good choice too!

After hearing that introduction, you might think I’m one of Medill’s “digital people.” But as is the case with every member of the faculty, what I might teach doesn’t define me. I’m a journalism person, concerned first and foremost with how we get important, accurate information to people so they can act on it; so they can make good decisions on behalf of themselves and their families; and so they can make good choices about how America governs itself.

I started my journalism-person career when I was 16, as a sportswriter on my hometown daily newspaper. I covered games, conducted interviews, took pictures, developed film, printed photographs, wrote stories, laid out pages, wrote headlines, and edited wire stories. Today you can do pretty much all of that on your phone, or at least you will after a couple of our courses! Then I came to Chicago, and started working at the Tribune 4 days before my first college class. I didn’t write stories there at first; I got people their coffee.

About 30 years ago I got an Apple computer and went online for the first time. What told me the world was going to be different? Probably when I chatted online with our Moscow correspondent from my home office for the first time. Over the years, as I oversaw different parts of the newsroom, I had the chance to visit and work with the companies who were changing not just journalism, but also American culture and business: Apple, Microsoft, America Online, Netscape, Google, plus a whole bunch whose ideas turned out to be better than their business plans. So when I teach a course like the one I have this fall – “American Media through the Lens of Google”– I think I have a decent idea about what might be really important, and what is less so. And by the way, as of this morning there was still one seat available in it, and freshmen can take it because there are no prerequisites!

Well, that’s the end of the Owen commercial. As you probably are noticing during this week of Wildcat Welcome, Northwestern can seem like a pretty big place. Not to worry. Here at Medill, the faculty and staff and your fellow students are a family that does what families do: make the world a better place through the sharing of information, knowledge, and handy little tricks to make the world work better for you.

There is no better place than Northwestern for you to take the next step in your education. That applies to the classes you will take across the University as well as those here in Medill, of course. As diverse and wide-ranging as they are, they are supported in common by many ideas, and I want to talk about just one of them in my brief time with you today.

It is our goal as faculty that when you graduate from here – and perhaps even before you do – you have become leaders who will make a difference instantly, both in your first job specifically and in your world generally. This means that we will be working to equip you to do a few things:

  • Learn not just what you need to know to be great reporters, writers, videographers, producers, or developers, but also what you need to know to get great jobs that haven’t been invented yet.
  • Not just cope with that kind of change, but also anticipate it, manage it, and help others understand and cope with it through your work and through your interactions with them.
  • Not just give you new tools with which to do journalism, but also new ways of thinking and analyzing the world you’re reporting, writing, filming, photographing, and blogging and tweeting about.
  • Not just be a better news consumer yourself, but also to understand the people in your audience so that they will be smarter, better informed news consumers too.

All that, and a lot more. No one can encapsulate a Northwestern education or a Medill education in just a few minutes, and in any event it will be different for each of you, and great for each of you in different ways as well. Take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way, don’t be afraid to study something entirely new, and get ready to become even more of a leader than you already are. Welcome to Medill.

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