MedillTalks highlights great ideas in journalism

WGN-TV’s Randi Belisomo (MSJ06) took the stage in McCormick Tribune Center Forum on Thursday, Feb. 27, to commence the inaugural “MedillTalks: Where Great Ideas Take the Lede.”

A panel of Medill professors, who Belisomo said “walk the talk,” each spoke for 15-20 minutes on special topics in journalism to a crowd of more than 130 people that included students, community members and local journalists.

Michele Weldon, assistant professor emerita-in-service and organizer of “MedillTalks,” commented on neuroscience’s relationship with the journalistic narrative. She said Medill is joining the initiative for neuro-marketing and that humans are neurologically dependent on story.

“Stories are how we navigate the world. In journalism, story must be more than just a chronological regurgitation of events. Stories are the rocket fuel for every piece of content,” Weldon said.

One of the presenting faculty members, Lecturer Michael Deas, said in order to improve diversity in newsrooms, organizations must hire journalists who reflect society as a whole and recognize journalists of color as contributors to the larger discussion.

“In a utopia, all things are equal. And in media, the solutions are clear,” Deas said. “Now if we move toward that end, I’m confident that we will achieve excellence and fairness for everyone.”

Shifting from diversity to alliance, Assistant Professor Caryn Ward Brooks’ said that solo/backpacking journalism is less effective than collaborative efforts of reporters and editors.

“It might be true that too many cooks spoil a broth, but too few journalists make the journalism thin,” Brooks said. “Journalists can’t be an army of one. Journalists need to be innovative, creative, great—and they can only do that together.”

Assistant Professor Abigail Foerstner spoke about investigating science in journalism and said that journalists must be unrelenting on their quest to verify numbers and scientific data before turning myths into monsters.

“It’s time to turn the tide as journalists on the Frankenstein factor,” Foerstner said. “[It’s time] to turn the tide on the misconceptions caused by science-by-myth, by science-by-press-conference and by science-by-false-balance.”

Professor Craig Duff said that major news outlets in broadcast, print and online need the ability to cross platforms, emphasize story and know which medium works best to tell each facet of a tale to a technologically evolving consumer.

“Look at how far we’ve come [in media],” Duff said. “I’m optimistic because I know this: people do care about news and want to be informed about their world, and we’ve never had greater power to offer them solid journalism.”

Adjunct Lecturer Jazmin Beltran said journalists must focus their studies on the audience’s question of “What’s in it for me?”

“When we shift our focus and really step into the [audience’s] shoes, we can really have effective content,” Beltran said. “For all the news consumers out there, know that you help us journalists when you’re selfish. We expect it, we need it, we want it.”

Assistant Professor Emily Withrow said the creation of the "unclass" dismissed the traditional method of teaching to the lowest common denominator and addressed both scope and depth instead of choosing just one.

“The unclass gave [students] the skills they needed at the level they needed at the moment they needed them, to effectively collaborate on a complex journalism project,” Withrow said.

Weldon said MedillTalks has an important mission and she hopes the event becomes recurring at Medill.

“I work with all these amazing colleague and I thought [it’s] a shame that we have all this brain power, and it’s only on the way to the parking lot that we share what we’re doing outside, or what we’re thinking about and not talking about grading papers,” Weldon said. “There are so many brilliant people here at Medill. Why not share [our ideas] with a larger audience?”