T. Anthony Pollner Distinguished Professor, Fall 2012
ABOUT: Washington Post TV critic Hank Stuever taught a course titled, "Popular Culture Journalism" in which students studied and practiced various forms of feature writing to examine the ways in which American society consumes and interacts with pop culture. His Pollner lecture, "Liner Notes for the End of the World," focused on how reporters can and should write more meaningfully about celebrities, trends, culture, society and entertainment. For more on Hank, check out his website.
"My Pollner Experience" by Hank Stuever
Confession: I’m not outdoorsy. No testimonials from me about the mountains and the fall leaves and the rivers; the fishing, the hiking -- the kayaking, ferchrissakes. Someone loaned me a very nice bicycle during my Pollner semester and I rode it once. I mean, it’s very pretty in Montana, as everyone knows. You can tell that from your car.
I came to Missoula to teach a writing class, which had long been one of my desires. The Pollner professorship is a rare chance for a working journalist to give teaching a try with his or her full heart and concentration. I was told to challenge my students and I took it seriously.
But it’s not the full-on academic immersion. You teach just one class, limited to 18 of the journalism school’s finest students, which is held two afternoons a week in a gorgeous classroom. You don’t go to many (any?) meetings, except the ones involving beer. You don’t have paperwork or advising chores. You’re given a beautiful office and surrounded by friendly colleagues who exhibit not one shred of professional envy, resentment or departmental strife. It’s the gentlest experience of academia imaginable and you wind up being as busy as you want to be. (Giving the public lecture is the only big sweat, but the audience is on your side.)
The other draw, personally, was the chance to help advise the student newspaper, the Kaimin. There were a couple of moments where it seemed as if the clock had rewound 25 years and I was back in a college newsroom, filled with that same giddy sense of exhaustion and group effort. The difference now was this: Somewhere along the way, I’d become good at a few things over the last couple of decades. I had real advice to impart, and a real love for it, too. That’s what I got most from my Pollner experience: loving journalism again. Getting past my nostalgia and living in the moment with the students and professors.
I’m on record as saying that this was easily one of the best experiences of my life, not just professionally, but personally. One day in class, early in the semester, we gravitated to one of our many impromptu conversations about the sometimes bleak state of the news business. I acknowledged that, but I channeled “The Goonies”: This class is OUR time, I said. It’s a chance to sit around a table and share reporting and writing, to get better at it and give one another the kind of feedback and editing that we’ll spend the rest of our careers wishing for.
And with that, we got down to business.
PS: Yes, I went snowshoeing.