etsuEarlier this morning, I braved the January deluge on I-26 on the way to Johnson City to participate in an interesting forum with area media professionals and professors from East Tennessee State University. This morning breakfast was an interesting roundtable as we talked about what’s important as it relates to students, education and the media landscape.

Dr. Stephen Marshall sent out 33 requests and had 11 people respond to his call to join the ETSU staff at Burgess Dosset Hall for an early (7.45 am) breakfast. Together with his colleagues that were interested in our candid feedback about ETSU, mass communications and suggestions as to what media employers are looking for among graduates and interns.

There was an diverse and interesting collection of voices at the table this morning too.

David Cate Times Digital Group  
Jennifer Pickard Team Health
Jose Castillo Think Jose  
Kanishka Biddanda The Creative Trust Agency, Inc.  
Lori Rae DeVoti Creative Energy
Mary Ellen Miller Marketing Mel  
Christine Uthoff Bristol Herald Courier  
Mark Stevens The Elizabethton Star  
Robert Houk Johnson City Press  
Stephanie McClellan Kingsport Times-News  
Dr. Kenneth C. Hill WHCB-FM  
Joni Edwards Scripps Network
Martin Walters Big Time Audio
Preston Ayres WCYB-TV  

It was a real pleasure to engage with such a talented, intelligent group of professionals and it’s important to note the diversity among the group. From radio, television, newspaper, entrepreneurs, agency professionals, musicians and professors, this was a lively conversation.

Dr. Marshall was focused, direct and probing in his questions among the group and everyone had great feedback. Many were ETSU Alumni and successful in their profession. What intrigued me the most were the general topics and disruptions that everyone in attendance are wrestling with.

From the traditionalists, there was a call for professionalism, craft and passion. As the information deadline has moved to “now,” radio, tv and the newspaper pros skirted topics around technology, accuracy, social media and the nuts and bolts of local media.

It’s clear the skill sets of future students will require a holistic and dynamic portfolio too. We discussed how today’s “Me-dia” is available to everyone and Twitter and other channels bring news up first through non-traditional channels and trying to keep up is a daunting task.

Suggestions were made to prepare students better for the local market as opposed to the glam scenarios portrayed in Network television and Mad-Men.

It was intriguing to hear the professors wrestle with their own concerns trying to discern and track students toward their interests. As we discussed passion for the craft, it was enlightening to see the professors discuss how they desired to detect students strengths and help guide them on a career path.

I personally have strong feelings that the title “Mass Communications” is a remnant of the golden age of advertising and universities need a brand overhaul with regard to modern media.

It’s also to important as an employer that students have a holistic understanding of business, art and entrepreneurial conditioning as it relates to media. That’s a personal feeling, but media professionals need to realize the economies of business and not just the craft these days – in fact, I made the personal suggestion that everyone should learn to code.

Nevertheless, I’m always flattered to be in the same room with bright minds like this and consider myself priviledged to share their ideas and respond to their suggestions.

I can’t wait to see how Dr. Marshall and their team continue to improve the quality of education for the students of East Tennessee State University and can’t help but envy their work – albeit they have they’re own challenges in the future as well.