T. Anthony Pollner Distinguished Professor, Spring 2002
ABOUT: A former Los Angeles Times business and technology reporter, Jonathan Weber taught a seminar on globalization and the press in the spring of 2002. His Pollner lecture examined the rise and fall of The Industry Standard, the fastest-growing magazine in American history. Following his tenure as a Pollner professor, he went on to found New West in Missoula. As of 2014, Jonathan has been serving as the managing editor of The Information, a tech news start-up based in San Francisco.
"It's a rough job; I'm glad I did it" by Jonathan Weber
As the first T. Anthony Pollner professor at the University of Montana, I had to endure some serious hardships as the Journalism School worked the bugs out of the new program.
First, I wasn't allowed to have my dog in the university apartment that was proffered, so I had to find my own place - a lovely old house one block from campus that cost about the same as a San Francisco closet.
Then I had to invent a seminar from scratch - you know, just come up with a topic that interests you, and we'll try to make sure that most of our best students show up. I actually had to think some big thoughts for a change.
Then I had to endure some lessons from the staff of the Kaimin, the student newspaper, on the true meaning of the word "adviser." I was under the impression that it might mean something like "editor-in-chief" - having so recently been an editor-in-chief myself - but was quickly put straight. No, I had to hang around the Kaimin offices day in and day out, trying to be useful to the fun, smart, earnest and energetic group that put out the paper four days a week. I had to drink beer with the faculty on Fridays, and hear all kinds of lore about the J-school, and the University, and the city of Missoula. (Well, I guess I didn't have to, but...). I had to put on a suit and give a speech, albeit one that enabled me to create a unique narrative about the rise and fall of The Industry Standard and was altogether enjoyable.
As you can probably see by now, it was all very onerous. Except for the dog thing, it's likely that most Pollner professors will face similar travails.
It really isn't so bad, though. A beautiful, friendly place that's not nearly as cold as advertised, a warm, welcoming and highly talented faculty, and a smart, motivated group of would-be journalists - really not so bad at all.
The Pollner seminar offers the opportunity to explore almost any media-related issue in-depth. My class, called Globalization and the Media, examined the ways in which the much-discussed economic phenomenon is understood and covered in the press. The ability to easily read many foreign publications on the Net also made it possible to compare perspectives on globalization across different countries.
Working with the Kaimin was a great opportunity to get my hands dirty with the students, as it were, and we had some great stories to cover. The arson fire that burned the home of a lesbian couple that had sued the University for same-sex partner benefits was a major national story, and the Kaimin crew worked all-out to stay on top of it. The abrupt and unexpected firing of the UM basketball coach, while of far less moment in the grand scheme of things, was the kind of campus story that provided a great opportunity for budding newshounds. The paper improved steadily over the course of the semester, and seeing the progress of both individual reporters and editors and photographers and the paper as a whole was extremely gratifying.
At a time when the demands of celebrity culture and entertainment-driven news conglomerates are putting ever-greater pressure on traditional newsgathering, it was extremely refreshing to spend time at a place where the basic skills and values of the craft are still front and center. The University of Montana J-School has a long and proud history, and it is being upheld admirably by a faculty dedicated to good writing, honest and fair reporting, incisive and accurate editing, and solid production values in whatever medium, be it print or electronic.
As for me, I liked it so much that I decided to hang around in Missoula. There is a longer story there - but in the meantime, I expect to be teaching a class in the fall, and might be able to offer the new Pollner fellow a few tips. It can be rough out there.