“It’s not what you know. It’s how you use what you know.”

With more than four decades of experience in journalism education and research, Donald Shaw has taught countless numbers of students the fundamentals of news writing. Most students learn it, he says. And some have a real knack for it.

Shaw has a keen memory for certain students; he remembers both their gifts and their quirks. Some have continued on as writers, while others have become lawyers and doctors. Journalism, he says, provides a strong communication foundation necessary to succeed in any field.

Teaching, he says, is successful when someone has a passion for something and a desire to communicate it. Shaw describes himself as having two sides: one, creative and chaotic; the other much more orderly. While teaching caters to his chaotic side, his military career addressed the orderly side of him. His passion, however, lies in journalism research and history.

In balancing these two sides, Shaw has dedicated much of his time to his own scholarship, pioneering the theory of agenda setting with Maxwell McCombs, and authoring many articles and books. Shaw is insatiably curious, using his time investigating both ideas and people. Despite his retirement from teaching, Shaw plans to continue dedicating time to research.

Shaw was inducted into the North Carolina Journalism Hall of Fame in 2012. This interview was conducted at a point of transition in Shaw’s life, as he sorts through his office in Carroll Hall and retires from teaching – but not entirely, he explains. He’ll be back to teach the occasional news writing course and interact with – and surely influence –  a new generation of students.

 

Chesley Kalnen: This is a test. I am interviewing Dr. Donald Shaw. If you would, please state your birth date.

Donald Shaw: October 27, 1936.

CK: Great, that’s picking up perfectly, so, we will start the interview. My name is Chesley Kalnen, I am in the Charles Kuralt Learning Center in the UNC School of Journalism and Mass Communication. It is November 14, and it is my pleasure to interview Dr. Donald Shaw. Dr. Shaw, thank you.

DS: Thank you.

CK: Can you begin by telling me where you were born.

DS: I was born in Raleigh, North Carolina, my father was a professor at North Carolina State University and my mother was a homemaker. I had one other brother, who spent a career as a journalist, and in public relations and in politics as an aid to a congressman.

CK: What were your parents’ names?

DS: Luther Shaw and Lowell Shaw. Luther, he had no middle name, my mother was Lowell, her maiden name was Louis, and of course her married name was Shaw, so, and she came from a family of three other sisters – four children – and my father came from a family of approximately seven brothers and sisters, I think he had four brothers and two sisters, but I’d have to count it out.

CK: You’ve been described as “constantly curious” and “an idea man” by several people. In what ways were you curious when you were younger?

DS: Well I, I’ve always described myself as having a journalist mind, I think journalists are interested in about everything, I sometimes think journalists are a little bit like the Platte River, which is described- in Texas, I believe – which is described as being three miles wide and six or eight inches deep, and I think journalists have very broad interests and not necessarily deep interests and everything, but a few things, but they want to know enough about a topic to be able to write a story on it I think it’s natural. I’ve always had that feeling, wanting to know enough – a little bit about everything, not necessarily everything about everything, but a little bit about everything.

Shaw works in his Carroll Hall office, November 2012.

CK: You’ve mentioned before that you are interested in history. Is there a certain type of history you’re interested in?

DS: I’m interested in American history in the last two centuries, 19th and 20th century, and of course 21st, and I’m interested in Southern history, particularly in the 19th century around the time before the Civil War.

CK: Does any of this related to media history, or is it solely–

DS: Yes, and I’m interested in how media, particularly journalists in history – newspaper and magazine, print journalism history – has evolved from the beginnings in the United States in the early 18th century to the present, but of course I’m also interested in how broadcast has interacted with it, and radio and television and the newer media because it’s all competitive game and has been from the beginning, so I’m interested in the dynamics of competition among agendas, you might say.

CK: How long have you had this interest?

DS: Ever since I’ve been in scholarship, and I’ve been in journalism scholarship since 1960, so I’ve been doing scholarship for more than fifty years now.

CK: Could you tell me where you went to school to get your undergraduate, graduate and eventually your Ph.D.?

DS: Well, I went to Mars Hill College, then it was a two-year place, and graduated in 1950- uhm – let’s see, 1959  — no, 1957 — 1957, and then I transferred to University of North Carolina here at Chapel Hill and graduated two years later, and I decided to stay and get a Master’s degree and graduated a year later in 1960, then I went off to be a journalist. I worked at the Asheville Citizen for approximately a year, and I knew that I had planned, actually, to go back to school sometime to earn a Ph.D. so I shifted over to the afternoon newspaper at the Asheville Times in order to get experience in both the morning and afternoon newspaper, and so I worked there for about two years or so, and I also went away six months during that period in the army as a member of the Reserves. So later on in the army career I spent years as a public affairs officer – one way or another, many years – working that field, so when I finished up at UNC in 19- umh, uh – 60, and the two years as a- in journalism and in the army, I went from 1962 to 1966 to the University of Wisconsin at Madison, which incidentally is where my father went to school, he got a Ph.D. there in 1932, and so 34 years later I got a Ph.D. there so (coughs) when I finished, there was a job opening here back at UNC and I took it. (coughs) Excuse me.

CK: So how quick was that transition from being a student to being a teacher?

DS: It was rapid and I had mixed feeling about advising people to go back to the institution where they have an undergraduate degree after you get your Ph.D. because it takes awhile to call professors whom you used to call “Doctor” and “Professor” by their first name, so, it, it took awhile to get adjusted to coming back ’cause I had only been gone for four — a few years — six years, I guess, when I came back as an assistant professor, so it took awhile to get adjusted to that, but North Carolina is a great place to have a career because it’s a good university with excellent students and journalism is very much uhm.. a… liberal arts-type of education, and the fact that the university has such strong supporting departments in the social sciences, history, sociology, literature, languages, and also obviously the sciences and good law school, excellent medical school [….] that our students have quite an opportunity to explore topics other than just writing and reporting.

CK: So you began teaching in 1966? Is that correct?

DS: 1966.

CK: What was going on at the University at that time?

DS: (coughs) Well, uhm  — I was not particularly uh uhmm involved in it, but there was a period of time which there was growing concern about the war in Vietnam. But I was, by this time, in the Reserves, ’cause I had joined in 1960, and when I, for a six-year obligation in the reserves, but when I came back in, to UNC, in ’66, my time was up, but uhm, ah, I decided to stay in a year at a time I was a — by this time I was a Lieutenant and so I stayed in the army as a Reserves, or guard, for many years – altogether I was in for 32 years and uh so uhm I was away in the army a lot and on weekends and so forth and there were, in the late ’60s, somewhere in there, early ’70s, there were protests and, but, oddly speaking, looking back on it, I don’t know why, I never felt… a part of those protests, I guess ’cause I was so deeply committed to the army, and I was an infantry officer, I never even put the two together, I never put them together, I had a graduate student who was involved in marches and protests at least on one occasion, and I remember it quite surprised me, not that she was in it, but there was one going on – that shows you how little clued-in I was to events ’cause I was so deeply involved in my own military actions and/or a I was involved in teaching, or scholarship, I didn’t think about. Later I did put it together and, but since I was in the army, of course, I was, my own personal feelings had no involvement in this ’cause I regarded myself as a soldier and if I — uhm — in my military career, I mean started in 1960 as an enlisted man but I decided that I would take advantage of a program to become an officer which involves some correspondence work and some various kinds of tasks and duties and I became commissioned in 1962, so I became a lieutenant after two years in the army, second lieutenant, first lieutenant in ’65, so by 1966 when I came back, I was already a lieutenant, then I joined the National Guard a bit later ’cause I was a professor here at the School of Journalism who was in the National Guard, at the time I was kinda planning on getting out, encouraging me to move over and stay in and I did, and then just kept staying in, so I regard myself as having pursued two careers, really, an academic career – a teaching career, a scholarship career – and a military career. The military career was one in which I was alerted a couple of times, my unit was, that we were going to be called up during the Vietnam era, but President Johnson was reluctant to involve Reserves at that time, and so we were never actually called up, so I don’t begin to compare myself with people who actually went over there – a lot of my friends did – but I certainly would have gone over there if I had been called up, or wherever my unit would have been sent, I would have been willing to do that, so, later, many years later, long after I’d left the army, and thought about that war later, it really- there are many things about that war that are really troubling – that is, our involvement in it, back in the ’60s, and how we edged into it more and more and more, and like everything else in life, when you look at your own life and you wish you could do something differently, I wish we could go back to the nation at some of those decision points and make better decisions than we did, but we – but – of course we make the best decisions we can at any given time based on what we have. So the war troubles me now but it didn’t trouble me when I was a soldier particularly, ’cause my duty was to do what I was told to do, that was lawful and — so I look back on that period (coughs) excuse me, not very much, but when I do think about it, it’s more troubling now then it was then. (coughs)

CK: How would you say your military career either influenced, or maybe took away from, your academic career and scholarship?

DS: My military career and academic career are parallel and different, and I find that the chaotic part of me, the creative part, fits teaching and scholarship and I’ve always found students to be great sources of energy and ideas. The part of me that is more controlled and orderly, you might say, was attracted to the army so I had these alternative lifestyles in front of me. One was quite orderly and one was quite, uhm… creative. And I think these satisfied two needs in me. I suspect those two needs are in everybody, to some extent — order and creativity, order and creativity – and being a professor, in a way, provides a little bit of a privilege because you do have more freedom than you have in a lot of jobs to take control of your day and work as a scholar. And so, and you can get a weekend away in the army and everything and be orderly again and you be back in teaching and research and writing and be more creative again, so they balanced each other very well in my life. I miss the army today, I’ve been out for a long time now, so, I miss that [….]. But for a number of years since the last year, I was Director of Selective Service in North Carolina, in which I worked with people in  Guard, or Reserves, because that- the duty of that group was to implement a draft if the Congress would ever institute one, so it had to be ready all the time. So I had an additional 15 years to the 32 involved at the edge of the Defense Department. So altogether, I worked in national defense, one way or another, for 47 years – nearly a half century – so clearly it has made an impression on me in terms of duties and so forth, and I have [coughs] excuse me (coughs) I have an admiration, like I suspect most people do, that build a military, for our active forces in the army, navy, coast guard, marines, because I feel a part of them and what they do because I felt a part of what they did, and I feel a part of that generation that was involved in World War II and so forth, and I feel appreciative of what they did, too, must have been- taken a great courage to step out on a beach in June of 1944 with machine gun firing, artillery firing and so I feel a part of that America and part of me thinks that the nation lost something when it went away from the draft to the volunteer army because it was a shared experience, that men had at least, (coughs) and for a couple of years and they could think about their whole life – but the other hand, the volunteer army is superb. My career that began in 1960 and ended in 1992, was about half in the draft-motivated army – the draft ended in 1973 – and the other half, the other part of it, was in the volunteer army, so I was in both armies, as a matter of speaking. And they both had – uhm – superb sides to them. In the draft-motivated army, you would find lots of people would go in for their two years, or go in for the Reserves, many college graduates, and you might have find in a unit that a private or a Pfc. or a corporal was a college graduate because it moved up rapidly in the two years and then they would be getting out the end of two, two-and-a-half years or three years sometimes, and (coughs) sergeants tended to be high school graduates. Today, college graduates are spread in the army, I mean there are more in the officer corps  but a lot of enlisted have training, lots of training, and they’re- because they’re committed for a whole career from the start, and they are paid better, of course than they used to be there, and the army is much more technical with lots of specialized equipment, they are extremely well-trained for what they do – extremely well-trained – so it was very interesting to look back once you got out, to look back on these two armies and think about their contribution. At the time you’re in it, you just live from one year to the next year and you didn’t really notice it particularly, but the army has certainly changed and — the air force of course, and the navy, were all kind-of voluntary except in the previous wars, people could be drafted into it like in World War II, could be assigned to that, but for many years those services, they in the draft age were primarily of voluntary forces.

CK: So you have a very deep commitment to your country, how has this commitment translated in the local setting? What have you been involved with in the community?

DS: Well, I have always, I have tried to participate in volunteer work, both at the university and in the town. In the town, I have served on what used to be called the Appearance Commission; I’ve served on the Planning Board; I’ve served on the Human Advisory– Human Services Advisory Board; I’ve served on a technical post, called a technology committee; and I’ve served on another committee- I’ve served on five of those committees for about two years or three years, in one case I had to [coughs] resign because I moved elsewhere to teach a year  but I think it’s twelve or thirteen, fourteen years that I’ve done these “citizen board” commitments, and then the University, I was involved in the initial founding director of the Faculty Media Development Center – it has a different name now – and from ’76 to ’86, and then within the school I’ve turned my- I’ve served my turn at running the research center or doing various kinds of committee work and so forth so I think being a professor, I would say, involves teaching – the main thing – and then scholarship and then the public service and just about every professor I know [clears throat] I think every professor I know who is involved in teaching is also writing or doing some kind of professional activity and they are also doing some kind of public service within the school, within the University, and so forth, meaning that our colleague Jane Brown, for example, was very prominent in the area became the chair of the faculty at the University and served in many ways for the University committees, and that’s true of Ruth Walden, who chaired- and many others in our faculty who worked as good citizens in the public service arena for the  School and for the University and for their professional careers because professors have that kind-of requirement to balance out your commitments.

CK: Has this engaged scholarship always been a part of university life, even when you were an undergrad?

DS: Yes.

CK: Is this something that you noticed?

DS: Yes, although — in those days, I believe it’s fair to say that students were not doing as much scholarship with the regional data as students are today. So that today, with the data sets that are available on public opinion – they pull right off the web, or they can gather from data sources or from our own sources on the campus – means that students with good ideas and some knowledge of how to manipulate data can write original papers and document them and they’ve done so – and I think that’s more true today, that students are more a part of the entire research team – students at the undergraduate level, master’s students and doctoral students of course are required to do that. But undergraduates are more and more a part of the engagement of the university and the larger public life, and I’m delighted with that, ’cause I think undergraduates, especially, are often cognitive of the technological changes in the newer evolving media because they are using those media more themselves personally and are more aware of it so that {….} and ask very engaging questions. The only thing they need is guidance and the skills on how to organize and present the data and I think that’s going to be more and more true so that- when I look back on my career, for awhile I ran the honors program here with undergraduates – top undergraduates – and those- that convinced me that our best students – at the University of North Carolina – [coughs] are fully equivalent to the best students at Harvard, or Oxford, or Cambridge, or anywhere in the world and in my work as a visiting professor at other universities, which has brought me into contact with a lot of students over the years, has also convinced me that the best students at those universities are fully the equivalent of the best students elsewhere and I think the Honors Program highlights the ability of students to do research. I think the finest piece of research I’ve ever seen was done by an undergraduate 20 years ago – his name slips my mind now – but any way, he did a legal study. It was about three- or four-hundred pages of I think 300 pages, between two- and three-hundred pages of some kind of legal analysis, case to case to case, brilliantly written, and he was like 22-years-old, so and I’ve seen other examples too of brilliant work, of students young and old – we’ve had some older students also – so, ya know, uhm you, as you — go along as a teacher, it seems like you become more aware of, cognitive of, the full possibilities of students of all ages and backgrounds and genders and levels of prior experience and so forth, ’cause we’re truly in a kind of a world in which we’re internationalizing, trading around. When I first came, I think students – as I look back on it – (coughs) were very intelligent in 1966, but they did not have spell check so, and we had typewriters and one of my first years of teaching, we went through several generations of typewriters before we went to computers and then we’ve been through several generations of computers over the years and I don’t know- I was never struck by a lot of spelling errors and grammar errors, but there were some, and I think students in many ways are as good or better than they were then, plus students today are more [coughs] internationally-traveled then they were then, and they have more of a background, more experience with life in general. There tend to be- the thing about students is true, people in general since I began, that students are more horizontal than they were, but people, all people are. By that I mean to say that- a good way to look at it is, if you had a dispute over the facts in the ’60s, you would tend to go to the Encyclopedia Britannica or Americana and you would resolve that because that was the vertical authority that informed everyone. But today, people are more likely to go to Google or  — uhm, uh, uhm… – the encyclopedias online, wiki, or to go to their friends, or go horizontally to find answers. And I think, in a way, underneath that, students reflect what’s happening in our life in that, at one time, authority lines were clearer in the ’60s. There was an authority figure, then a next figure and we were very vertically-oriented in terms of authority and information, and today I think we are much more horizontally-oriented. We take every authority figure’s information to heart in the sense that- but we are also aware of other points of view, and we can get social support for other points of view. And while that’s true in the classroom, it’s true of political leaders, it’s true of people who are in the company, I mean that we are much more democratically spread out in terms of obtaining information and questioning authority than we were, I think, so many years ago. But students just reflect, in this case, the larger trends. We’re working on a book on this called “Creating the Papyrus Society,” which is a society that’s so vertical like a pyramid with stones that are about at the bottom, but is more horizontal like papyrus paper, which is made up of part of papyrus plant leaf, criss-crossed and flattened, so the authority is changing. So, you were asking where ideas come from. Ideas come from watching student behavior and so forth and, indeed, one of the most important ideas that I had a long time ago was- came from a student when I was asked to teach a research methods class to fill in for someone, and during that class – it was made up of graduates and undergraduates – and during that class, one of the- two of the undergraduates reversed what we call independent and dependent variables. For example, gender is an independent variable and political belief is dependent. They often say women believe more in social issues and men believe more in military issues [coughs]. Their belief in social issues didn’t create- make them women, the belief in military didn’t make them-they were men to start, they’re an independent variable [coughs] but anyway, they reversed them, so I had to discuss it with them and correct it, they had it reversed, and believed predicting the gender and the manners speaking, and then I thought about that for a great deal, I thought about that… into that… and I came to the conclusion that cognitively, we define ourselves regardless of what the outside independent variables may be, so that a woman might think entirely like a man, or a man might think entirely like a woman. It’s not necessarily always determined by the outside. And that led to a line of research, which we’re still working on, called agendamelding (coughs) when people select elements of life and blend them into the belief system and the patterns that they find comfortable. So that- there’s an idea that came from a student entirely, and there are other examples of where students ask questions or raise or do variables together and analysis that you would never have anticipated doing and since those students, for example, and maybe before it- I’m inclined often as a scholar to take an independent and dependent variable and reverse them, just to see what it looks like, even though it’s not proper to do so– so, not correct, it’s not good social science- it’s wrong, dead wrong. But on the other hand, it sometimes it reveals patterns that lead you to think in ways that are not totally predictable, and the role of scholarship is to generate new ways of thinking, new paradigms, better ways to fit facts and reality and that we heretofore to that point developed. So the teaching and the scholarship go together. I find, now that I’m retiring from teaching, that I miss the regularity of teaching, and also miss the stimulation of peo- questions asked all the time. So I miss that. So in the spring I’m going to come back and teach a newswriting class, newswriting, and I’m going to do that from time to time because — uh, I just, the question and answer, question and answer makes you want to examine your own views. (coughs)

CK: How would you describe your teaching style?

DS: Well, I think when I first started, it was very oriented to lecture and the professor had the knowledge, and you distill it. But in a lot of ways, over time it has become much more conversational, so I now think of students as more like a partner in the classroom. We’re partners. But I- we’re not totally equal because I have the responsibility of deciding what should be the goals of the class and to give it professional accomplishments and skills and monitoring it and making sure the people have their resources to do it. But it’s more conversational, I’ve gone a lot more discussion now and more student engagement than I used to, and that happened over time.

CK: Was it- how are the teaching styles different when you were an undergrad to how they are now, as far as you’ve observed them to be?

DS: In my opinion, because I audited a lot of classes, the years I audited, of some, that in my opinion, the evolution that I just described has – from lecture to more discussion – has been the case with a lot of professors. And you do have professors who are superb lecturers and that method still works, in the old way, for them very well. You have students who are just great at engagement and that works. Uhh, then uhm… I think there is no one way (cough) to succeed in the classroom. There was a professor once, a well-known professor in psych when I was a young professor, and he told me – or told a friend who told me – that it takes two ingredients to make a successful teacher and one of them is, is you need to know the topic thoroughly – that’s step one. Step two, you need to have a sincere desire to communicate it, and I think if you have both those things, some people succeed with beautifully-polished lectures, others with some discussion, some with Socratic question-and-answer, but they know it and they have sincere desire to communicate it, they’ll figure it out.  And it also changes as students change, so as students evolve and become more horizontal, it’s logical you use more discussion, more groups, more activity- more doing things. So to me, it came to- my teaching view came to be, that- I don’t think it’s true when I started, necessarily – that the measure of a successful education is not what you know, but how you use what you know. And I think that fits journalism very well. You can learn a great deal just by taking a lot of different courses, but in most professions, and in public life, or even in private life, you have to know how to make judgments about Greek philosophers and how it applies to your life, versus just telling us what Socrates or Aristotle said or believed. That’s useful – it’s interesting – but how does that apply to- ’cause the challenge of life is not so much knowing things but knowing how to do things properly in that kind of setting. And I think from that point of view, journalism education is- which focuses on how to decide what to write about, decide to gather information, decide to gather, organize, present and evaluate information, is- are the same steps that you get {….} and it’s very well geared to try to make how you use what you know. The only thing I would do if I were in a journalism program that had enough resources, I would probably explore the idea of having a double-major with journalism, which about a fourth of our students do anyway, I think, and the others are close to it, so you would have your writing and reporting supported strongly by one area – history, or sociology, or something – you’d have other areas, but you’d have that area that would be kind-of a specialty in your reporting, if you wanted to. I’d probably do that. But- and I would love to be in a position that has every journalism student graduate to write a small thesis of about 60 to 80 pages or so on some topic of real interest, based on that supporting area, and using data of some sort or another and some original data and- to tie it all together, and file it away in the University as a source of information. Maybe write stories and put ’em on a web for the press and so forth ’cause some of the stuff for the applied journalism we could use, be a source of great ideas, but it would also be expensive and difficult to staff it ’cause you’d have to have a number of professors reading and evaluating. So that’s probably too expensive. But I’d love to do that.

CK: So that’s definitely off the thread of “how you use what you know,” involving technology with that.

DS: Yeah.

CK: How would you say technology has affected or influenced your teaching?

DS: Well obviously everyone now is making use of PowerPoint and interactivity in the classroom. If you want to have students cover a speech by a prominent American who has caught up on Facebook and you let- you do the speech. Maybe only a few days after the speech was given, and then you can say to the students, “Now I want you to write this, if you want to you can look at the Washington Post” – earlier in the course – “the Washington Post coverage of the same speech.” Or the New York Times coverage of it. And then tell them to do your version of it, right? And then later on, you say “You’re on your honor to not look at it, but to write it, then look at it.” Then do critique it. First look at it, and then write. And then write, and then look at it, so where you’re kind-of on your own. But there’s the technology. I have not used, but I have been in classes when people have used, or made some use of Skype, ’cause you can have experts from all over the world – if you can work out the time differences – that can speak to your class. So the classroom has- is an example of horizontalized sources of information you can bring in, so it’s not just the textbook. And in fact, some people- I was just at a conference where people are not very sanguine about the future of books in the old way ’cause the are rather expensive and a lot of things can be put online and can be updated online and materials can be accessible online without violation of copyright, and so the whole nature of knowledge is somewhat in, I would call it, exciting transition; the ability to communicate knowledge is also in transition. But underneath it, there still is a need for good knowledge, good organization – useful knowledge – agreed upon knowledge – and so the core values of teaching and resear- teaching, remain the same, even though they do try to get a truth or try to get an acceptable explanation for phenomena regardless of the situation in which you’re at. If you’re in uhm- I mean I, you – I just talked about my years in the army, that the military, at first, in my career, the military was a leader for me in a classroom and the civilian side, well the military used every known educational development as it came along and they were very up on technology in teaching. So first I had ideas in the army that I brought back, later it worked the other way ’cause I was more interested in concepts and so forth. So I’ve been acquainted, and I went to the war college, which is extremely well-developed in terms of every conceivable teaching aid you might imagine, so I’ve been well-aware of those two all along but I do think that the use of technology in the classroom and so forth, it’s helpful, but there’s probably still no substitute, particularly in a writing class – or a reporting class in our field, as aside from a history class say – for a teaching sitting down at a computer with students as they write and give them critiques as they write, which I do when I’m teaching it, and I go around from thing to thing and sit and look at it and have them print out the story and we’ll go over it and go back and re-do it, rewriting, writing, rewriting, constant feedback because the technology is very handy in that you can say that, look at it, look to you evolution and particularly in the area of skills, ’cause you have these simulations, simulate-do-simulate, they do that [coughs] training pilots, they do it when they’re training soldiers, they do it- I mean simulate, and then try, and simulate. So the technolo- it’s hard to imagine the university teaching role anymore without being aware of the evolution of technology and communicating what it is. But really, the professor who said, “a great knowledge of the field,” that’s still required. And a sincere desire to communicate it. That second side, there are lots of options now. Many options to communicate it. But I don’t think there’s any one way that’s superior for all students. Some students are very oriented to seeing things written down, some things are visually orie- and that- but you can take advantage of the technology to try to adapt to different students, which our classes, our beginning classes in writing and skills, generally are small enough that you get a sense of students – where they are – very quickly. In fact, because of a typical 53 class runs about, I dunno- 30, 40 stories and by the time you’ve read about 5 stories, you pretty-well have the name down and you have sort-of little individual characteristics. They’re not wrong, that people have certain characteristics, the way they write and that- and sometimes, occasionally, you’ll see where some students have a tendency that is going to be a problem for them so you work on it. On the other hand, in nearly all cases, you can see where students have certain strengths. So you want to identify those strengths as quickly as you can and build on those and work on the things that are not as strong. I had, within the last two or three years, I had a student who was in one of my news writing classes who was also an athlete so she was gone a lot, on the track team. And I noticed that in her writing, that she had very subtle issues that we had to work on, but beneath those issues she had a natural ability to tell a story. She had like a built-in narrative guide, had a real strength. I pointed that out to her. It showed up again and again and I finally asked her that, where that came from. And she said when she was growing up, her grandfather read her a story every single day, or every night, and I thought bingo I mean whatever it is, he- I think he must be the one. He built in her a narrative structure so that every time she wrote, she began at time one and told it narratively after the lead. Time one and narrative- and that just was a strength. So I’m just using her as an example, other people have a gift for dialogue. One of my students of many years David Zucchino, works at the LA Times, a Pulitzer Prize-winner, written books and so forth, “Black Hawk Down” for example, when- his very first story he wrote astonished me because it was beautifully structured and David probably should have placed out of 53 and gone on, but in my career I think I’ve run across 8 to 12 students – men, women, black, white, male, female – who were like, must have been like for the young Mozart to the  teacher, the teacher realizing that he needed more than Mozart at the moment, but only briefly. I’ve run across that 8 or te- 8 to 12 times, they are really superbly talented. Most students learn it. They seem to have it. They learn I’m sure some but I mean, so- we’ve wandered afar from ‘technology’ but if you- the basic interaction between teacher and student needs to be there, regardless of the level of technology. That’s what I mean. And so in a way, technology- ’cause people can do so many things in their our own practice, should strengthen the amount of time that’s just the pure relationship between student and faculty. So I look at technology as a, as quite a good thing — if used sensibly.

CK: You mentioned teaching at other universities, and also – have you taught abroad? If so, how has that student-teacher relationship changed, or is it always there in that same way?

DS: It’s always there. I just came back from teaching a class in China two or three weeks ago, but about five or six years before that I went to China to teach a course, a five-day course, in agenda-setting and earlier- that was there – and then about two, three- earlier this year, I taught a same, the same course, same kind of course, in Georgia and I’ve taught and lectured in numerous countries over the years and I think, the relati- I think I haven’t been over there long enough to know if it would be the same as working a whole semester here, but I think that student-teacher relationship is the same almost everywhere, that it requires just what that guy said – knowledge of the field or topic, and a sincere desire to communicate it, whether it’s in a class or in a lecture or in a conversation, and so I think that the process of exchange between generations like that is pretty much a human dimension, not so much unique to any country. I also would point out that the technology that we are leading to – PowerPoint and all those things – are widely spread among elites, at least, and universities and all over the world, and even countries that have far less wealth than the United States, that people in the universities, elites at least, are perfectly aware of Facebook or their national equivalent and email and all- and Twitter or their equivalent – I just came from China where they have equivalents for some of this – and so I think that… and the appreciation for information, the evolution of information, the kind of paradigm shift that we’re in in which newspapers are playing a slightly different role, it’s true everywhere. I mean, communication is not bounded nationally.

CK: So what made you decide to retire? You have this great connection with your students

DS: Well I like students a lot, but I know that at some point I have to retire and also my wife is in poor health and I thought that all of the paperwork involved in retirement, I’d better do that and set that up in case something bad happened to me because I think it would be difficult for her to fill out the paperwork and all that, plus it’s, I mean, after a long- it’s a long time teaching and I, and I still want to do some of it and I’m obviously working hard at writing.

CK: What’s it like to pack up your office? Have you come across anything that you’d com-(pletely forgotten about)?

DS: Yes- yeah all kinds of things.

CK: (laughs)

DS: And we’re still in the process of trying to clean out that office, you can imagine, ’cause I’m a pack rat, and at home my wife is a pack rat, so we’re going through and giving away stuff and we’ve taken a great deal away already and I’m setting up an office at home that’s more-neatly organized and I want to kind of do more kind of- when I started me career as a young person, I used to work at, mostly at the office, I would come at night and work at the office, and- but I did work some at home, at night, but as I’ve gotten older I tend to work on scholarship during the day but not at night, I tend at night to just do family matters and I’ve kind of got a day life and a home life. I used to work longer hours as a junior professor and as an army officer I was gone a lot. In fact, I looked at when I retired in the army, I looked at- I had the equivalent of eight  years of being on active duty, and this was some years ago, in the 30 year, 32-years I had equivalent of eight years of being in the army so I was gone one day out of every four in a way, and I was certainly gone in scholarship about the same amount of time. And I remember asking my wife, “Say, I just looked at my time, one day out of every two I’ve been gone, who raised the children?” (laughs) And she just smiled at me. She didn’t answer that question (laughs). Obviously, she did, for a lot of the time because I was gone a great deal. And so now I have more time obviously and so I divide it up- but I think, ya know, people evolve, professors evolve from young to middle-aged to old, and students, some of my students who were, years ago, are now in their sixties, and I’m 76, and I’ve had children of some earlier students who have come through, so that was- one of my earlier students Stephen March became a novelist, and later on his son came through, about 30 years later, and they were both excellent students and certainly the class has changed a lot, between those two, and- typewriters, computers, more lecture, more discussion – and so you see a lot happen, over time with people that you know. One of my graduate students, Mary Junck, in the early ’70s, told me when she was 22-years-old that she wanted to be the publisher of a newspaper in Middle West. And I thought, well I don’t know if you’ll make it, I wish- I hope you do. Now she is the publisher of one of the groups out there that includes publication of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. So I’ve seen students who’ve gone- well I’ve seen students who’ve gone into journalism, they’ve gone into law, about two or three years ago – three years ago – a student who worked with me got inspired by Michael Hoefges’ lectures – and a wonderful law teacher – and she decided she was going to be a lawyer, so she went to American University, got a law degree, and now she’s working at Washington — I mean good night, I can think [coughs] I know the students, same period of time did the same thing, so we have students in all kinds of- we had a student once who went to- decided to go to medical school, I mean so journalism education, I think, is a wonderful background for a number of public careers in law, public policy and business, public relations, and here at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, all the time I’ve been here, and when I was a student, so I’ve been involved in the University in the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, the early part of the first decade of the 21st century, and now that’s like seven decades that it’s been a wonderful blend of professors who were professionals and academics, and most – for many years – most of the academics such as myself also were journalists, I mean I worked as a journalist, and still regard myself as a journalist scholar, really, I regard myself as a journalist scholar, journalist being first, scholar, and then an historian, and it’s that wonderful relationship, all of the doings of great deans and some good support from the press and the University, and we’re in a setting where there’s high-ranking scholarship, good people, and as a result, the place has been a wonderful place to work in contrast with some schools of journalism one hears about where there’s a kind of a tension between the academics and the professionals, or in some cases (coughs) in the early days, when there was a transfusion of women journalists coming in to teach, a tension between the older men and the younger women- we’ve never had, we’ve never had to my knowledge anything like tensions between the professional and the academic, men and women, older younger, and it all made tremendous contribution. I know at this time in the- when I first came in there were approximately seven faculty. Now there are mid-50s and about half of women and there’s not one member of the faculty that I know about, young or older, that is not someone I admire. They are extremely different in some cases, but they have made quite a contribution to the total program- everybody makes a contribution here, here, here, and it is very nice to work with a group of people who are actively engaged. Recently, the people in visual communications –  creating new messages and films and all kind of newer media – with students have won many prizes, and our students have proven themselves to be quite capable- not just in the old way of print journalist awards, but in terms of newer media awards. You have people like John Sweeney who is just a phenomenom in teaching with generations of students who have gone out in the creative world of marketing and advertising, my goodness we’ve had- and we’ve had some just natural-born teachers, Sweeney is one, Dulcie Straughan- there are many of them with us, faculty who are just extremely gifted. So, I mean, the School of Journalism is also… has created an environment and it assumes of the present dean Susan King to maintain it very well, this balance and engagement, and it’s a period of time in which journalism education is very much evolving– say well, how do you properly educate students in the rapid changing of the technologies and the ways people get public affairs information, because journalism is a profession devoted to informing people about civic affairs, civic life, and they may not be getting it from a newspaper or television or NPR, they may be getting it from their web servers and may be getting it through – partly through – blogs, partly their regular blogs and their regular websites and the ways they pull up and mix information — it’s more of a mix, more horizontal. You’re mixing it horizontally, rather than wait for it vertically to come down from CBS News like people did 40 years ago. So what’s the educational equivalent? How do you gather, decide, gather, organize, present, and evaluate information that’s going in a newspaper but partly by a website, partly going on a blog, partly going out, some other way of doing it. So the School is studying that under the new dean and it’s exciting to be a part of it. I mean if I were- I think in some ways to be your age in the 21st century is ideal because the media evolution, while it’s creating problems for the older established media to maintain position, is very exciting in terms of the possibilities for democratic outreach, possibilities of figuring out ways to inform people, possibilities of education via the internet, possibilities of connections across boundaries via Skype, the possibilities of reaching out, it’s just very exciting, but we don’t know any more where it’s going than they did when the telegraph was developed in the 1840s, it was so exciting to people, but they had no idea what its use was going to be at first, or the telephone -they thought, who would use this? – or commercial radio- or radio when it first developed, or television, or the transistor that made everything so small and- or the internet, computers. So even when these things are developing, they’re exciting things but we don’t know how they’re gonna be used and so we don’t know – in this year, 2012 – what it’s going to be like in 2016 exactly. But you can certainly see the ability to- for media to evolve quickly, for either Facebook or MySpace, the other way, or some of the early web browsers before Google that are- that have struggled for- it’s very competitive. And in my research with  agenda-setting where it’s a line of research that says the media tell you what to think about but not what to think, a phrase we borrowed from a professor, a prominent- Bernard Cohen, a prominent political scientist, that in a way you can- the media, every single media is trying to tell you what to think about.  Newspapers are thinking about place, where they’re published; and magazines are thinking about classes of people or groups or topics; radio, television thinking about nations; and the newer media are thinking about space – connecting us as individuals – place, class, mass and space in a way. And those agendas are always in competition so if you think about it, from this point of view,from the research point of view, that those media which have focused on place – newspapers and network radio and network television, national place, local place, national place – had been really pushed by those media that focus on class or special topics or linking us all as individuals. And if you think about it, newspapers and network television are very vertical reaching down and magazines and the newer media are very horizontal and reaching across, if you want to think that way. So vertical-horizontal are always, to some extent, in competition. So and right now, the edge is going to in terms of reaching audience, but not necessarily in terms of revenues, but in terms of reaching out to audiences in terms of getting more and more people [coughs] the horizontal media have a bit of an edge right now. [coughs] And yet, if you want to look at it as a comparison of a competition of vertical and horizontal, you can see that society needs to have vertical agendas, ’cause vertical agendas concentrate on the president, the professor, the schools, the police, the courts, and those institutions that connect us all, whereas horizontal media concentrate on fashion or sports or Duke University or State University, and those particular topics we’re interested in. Then if you don’t have vertical agreement on that the streets are important, schools are important, you don’t have a society. So in a way, this papyrus society represents a shrinkage of vertical authority – we hope not too far – and an increase in horizontal connections, which is enriching for us, so long as we reach the proper balance between vertical authority, agendas and horizontal ones. So the research and the teaching are not that far apart, if you want to look at it from that point of view. And that’s probably true that the writing, research, public service, that nearly all faculty members, they are looking at somehow, that engagement with the public through various ways, various media, which are in the process of changing.

CK: I think as my closing question, I would like to ask: You’ve previously mentioned contributions of other teachers–

DS: Yeah.

CK: Looking back, what would you consider your contribution to this campus and to this School — or have you not yet had it, not yet contributed it — still working on it?

DS: (coughs) I- Well, I–… I have never thought about the question like that, but… that, one thing that my colleague Max McCombs and I tried to do when we were here – he was here years ago – was to try to develop  a line of research that was engaging to us and the agenda-setting line of research, which did attract attention I think and is associated with North Carolina and Chapel Hill, I think was- it turned out to be a contribution that people link with us, that the original study was done in Chapel Hill. Since then there have been hundreds of other studies in many other places, including here we replicated that study two years ago — four years ago. So that would be a contribution in the teaching- on the research side. But also I like to think that a lot people learn their basic skills, somewhat, in the classroom. In fact, at this point in my career I’ve been honored with numerous awards. I have no thought that I haven’t been recognized in my work and the work of others. But I tell ya one award that I really treasure is that- was about three or four years ago I was at a North Carolina Press Association with my son who was then working as a journalist, and while I was there at the dinner, after the dinner, a young lady came up to me who had been in my news writing class, and she came up and said Professor Shaw I’m – and she gave me her name – and I was in your news writing class two years ago, and tonight, I just won an award for news writing, thank you for teaching me news writing (laughs). And I treasure that. And I hope that went on a lot, that people acquire those basic skills and- or concepts that are useful for them, not what you know but how you use what you know. (coughs) I really- I hope that is a contribution, and I hope that- I think that like everybody– I think every faculty member I know gives careful thought to the teaching part of it because education is an expensive proposition now and it’s hard for students to find the time and resources to come and I think that most professors try to give careful thought before we go in the classroom to make sure that the students get their legitimate money’s worth, I’ve always thought that. I don’t want into a class unless I want to give them their money’s worth, no matter [pats hands down onto folio] what you’re doing is scholarship, that teaching is- I mean that basic function remains the primary thing that we should be working on. And I think scholarship supports it. And of course public service does too. So I would hope the contribution is, some people would say, that “I may well forget ole-professor what’s-his-name, but I learned news writing with him.” There, something of that nature.

CK: Dr. Shaw, thank you.

DS: Thank you.

CK: This has been a pleasure, and this concludes our interview.

DS: Thank you.

(End of interview)

 

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Comments are closed.