Seasoned journalists urge USD students to seek news careers

Seasoned journalists urge USD students to seek news careers
Three seasoned journalists had a universal message for an audience of young people during a Thursday, Oct. 11 press conference.

Never look back.

Al Neuharth, founder of USA TODAY, John C. Quinn, the newspaper's former editor-in-chief, and Ken Paulson, its current editor, encouraged a group of University of South Dakota mass communications students to pursue media-related careers.


The three men spoke to the students at a press conference Thursday afternoon in the Al Neuharth Media Center on the university campus.

Last Thursday night, Quinn and Paulson became the 20th and 21st individuals honored by the university and the Freedom Forum with the 2007 Al Neuharth Award for Excellence in the Media.

The evening program, held in USD's Slagle Auditorium, included a discussion with Quinn and Paulson about USA TODAY and changes in the news media.

The event also featured "Hits and Headlines," a live multimedia show and musical performance looking back at news headlines and popular music of the last 25 years.

"I spent 47 years in the newsroom one way or the other, and I wouldn't change a day of it," Quinn said.

He noted that the way news is delivered to consumers has undergone vast changes since he began his career, and today's young people who seek a career in journalism likely will deal with even more change.

"I don't care if it (news) is delivered on the Web, or by a truck, or by a carrier pigeon," Quinn said. "The basics of journalism, the joys of journalism and the demands of journalism are not going to change.

"The obligation of the First Amendment for a full and fair press will remain," he said. "You need to be accurate ? get it first but first get it right. All of those things must, in your careers, be number one."

Journalism, Paulson said, is a craft that amounts to using one's skills to gather news and information from a variety of sources, packaged and presented in a way that's objective and easily understood by a majority of the American public.

"Those are great skills to have," he said. "Even if you go into journalism and decide after 10 years it's not what you want, those are skills that will apply to almost anything you do."

To be a journalist, one must be able to organize information, and at times ask difficult questions in the pursuit of knowledge.

"Those are all highly marketable skills," he told the students.

Paulson, who has degrees in both journalism and law, worked as an attorney for approximately a year early in his career. His experiences in a courtroom convinced him that he would find his true calling in a newsroom.

"I never looked back; I never thought twice about a career in law," Paulson said. "This has been the most invigorating profession ? so satisfying ? and I'll also tell you in a time when there is so much cynicism about America's free press, when you do the job the right way, when you get up every single morning determined to report fairly and in a balanced way, and shed light on things that your readers need to know, it is among the most noble professions and the most ethical professions on the planet, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise."

Neuharth advised the potential journalists at the press conference to prepare themselves for a mass media career, while avoiding trying to become too specialized in only one communication field.

Instead of focusing on only being a newspaper reporter, or radio or television announcer, or somebody who distributes information solely on the Internet, "you should prepare yourself to gather and distribute news and information.

"If you learn that skill, there is no question that you will have a successful career," Neuharth said, "because the best gatherers of news and information are trained journalists, and the world is hungrier for news and information than it has ever been."

Years from now, there likely may be ways to distribute information that at yet haven't even been thought of, he said.

"The Internet may be outdated someday," Neuharth said. "But it doesn't matter how it is distributed. If you train yourself to gather news and information in this information-hungry world, you can't lose."

Paulson and Quinn represent 25 years of USA TODAY, the nation's top-selling newspaper. Quinn spent nearly 50 years in the news business, including serving as the chief news executive for Gannett Co. when USA TODAY was launched.

Paulson is the current editor/vice president of news of USA TODAY and USATODAY.com and also was a founding staff member of USA TODAY when the newspaper launched in September 1982.

After his retirement from Gannett, Quinn became deputy chairman of the Freedom Forum. In 1991, Quinn and his wife, Loie, established the Freedom Forum's Chips Quinn Scholars program in memory of their son John C. "Chips" Quinn Jr. To date, 1,088 students of color have participated in the journalism training and internship program, with approximately 67 percent of graduates working in the news business today.

Paulson is widely known for his efforts to inform and educate Americans about First Amendment freedoms and as a strong voice for tougher confidential sourcing policies and ethics guidelines in America's news- rooms. For the past 10 years, he has been a regular guest lecturer at the American Press Institute, speaking to more than 5,000 journalists and media executives about First Amendment issues.

USA TODAY is the nation's top-selling newspaper, with a total average daily circulation of 2.3 million. It is sent via satellite to 36 printing locations in the USA and to four sites abroad. USATODAY.com, which launched April 17, 1995, ranks among the most popular news Web sites.

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