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Al Eisele

Al Eisele

Posted: October 16, 2009 11:32 AM

Joe Foote's Plan to Save Journalism

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Norman, Oklahoma - While we ink-stained wretches and Jurassic journalists agonize over the uncertain future of journalism in the age of the Internet, Joe Foote and the University of Oklahoma are trying to make sure that it survives and thrives in the 21st century.

Foote, the down-to-earth dean of OU's Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication, believes training future journalists, advertising executives and public relations specialists is just as important as training future lawyers, doctors, engineers and social scientists.

And he's confident his college can do that after opening a new $19 million, 46,000-square foot state-of-the-art addition, which combined with a $22 million dollar structure completed in 2004, assures Gaylord College a place in the top ranks of American journalism schools.

Now the fourth largest college on the OU campus, the combined facilities are designed to help prepare hundreds of students who hope to become the next Katie Couric, David Broder, Wolf Blitzer, Tom Friedman, Jim Lehrer, John Steinbeck, Garrison Keillor or maybe even Bill O'Reilly or Arianna Huffington, as well as leaders in the fields of advertising and public relations.

"Gaylord Hall, which we dedicate today, is a place where dreams are formed, where curiosity is in our DNA, where creativity thrives, where public service dominates, and where community matters," Foote said as some of the college's 1,400 students, 33 fulltime faculty members, alumni and benefactors crowded into the new three-story structure in the middle of the Norman campus.

"There may be turmoil in this industry as it looks for new business models for an Internet age," the craggy former aide to late U.S. Speaker of the House Carl Albert of Oklahoma, said. "The world always has and always will need those story-tellers." He added, "No other journalism school in the nation can say it has opened two new buildings in the last five years,"

The new facility includes teaching, computer and multimedia labs and classrooms, a video production studio, a 180-seat auditorium with sound stage and studio, and a new student-run advertising and public relations agency called Lindsey + Asp, which takes its name from two nearby streets. The latter gives student the opportunity to work with nonprofit and small businesses in an actual work environment.

It also provides office space for the college's expanding graduate and doctoral programs and for the Institute for Research and Training, as well as a professional writing alcove. And students who can't find or afford a ticket to join the 85,000 fans who fill the nearby Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium for home football games, can watch the Sooners from a third floor outdoor patio. (They can also watch Bono and his U2 band perform there Sunday night.)

Even though OU President David Boren said the new facility wouldn't have been possible without Foote's leadership, Foote didn't do all this by himself. He and his students and faculty owe everything to the generosity of the Edward L. Gaylord family of Oklahoma City, which publishes the Sooner State's largest newspaper and operates TV stations as well.

The Gaylord family gave $22 million to build the first phase of Gaylord Hall and endow professorships in 2004, which allowed the existing School of Journalism to upgrade to college status. And the Gaylord family and three foundations it founded were major contributors to the second phase of Gaylord Hall, to the tune of $11 million.

"They were extraordinary in terms of the standards they set and extraordinary in terms of their generosity," Boren said of Edward L. Gaylord and his sister, Edith Kinney Gaylord. Boren, the former Democratic governor and U.S. senator now in his 16th year as president, recalled that when he first met with Edward Gaylord to seek an initial contribution to upgrade the journalism school, Gaylord told him, "I know what you're here and for and before you ask, the answer is yes."

Christy Everest, Edward Gaylord's daughter and publisher of The Oklahoman, said her father and aunt could not have imagined how their generosity would make it possible for the college that bears their name to be in the forefront of the effort to define the role of journalism in the 21st century. "I think they would have been so proud," she said.

Boren, whose son Dan is the only Democrat in Oklahoma's seven-member congressional delegation, said he's confident that whatever form journalism takes in the future, it will survive. "In this time of enormous change, ... we must maintain the integrity and depth and accuracy of the communication itself."

Having been a visiting professor at the Gaylord College in the fall of 2007, I can attest to the excellence of the faculty and the high quality of students who are seeking careers in journalism, advertising and public relations. In fact, one recent grad, Holly Bailey, co-authored the current Newsweek cover story on Vice President Joe Biden, while another, Carrie Rose, is a broadcast meteorologist for Oklahoma City's Channel 9 TV station.

But newspapers and magazine have their work cut out for them if they hope to survive and thrive, as Joe Foote hopes. I spoke to two classes at Gaylord College while attending the dedication of the new Gaylord facility and asked students how many of them actually read newspapers. Of the 20 or so in each class, none raised their hand.

But when I asked how many get their news from the Internet, every single one of them did. That's the problem we Juraissic journalists are confronted with in the brave new world of the Internet.