The Mario Blog
A return to academia: Teaching multi-platform storytelling at Columbia

TAKEAWAY: I have been appointed the Hearst Digital Media Professional-in-Residence at Columbia Journalism School.

TAKEAWAY: I have been appointed the Hearst Digital Media Professional-in-Residence at Columbia Journalism School.

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I have exciting news: I will be returning to academia in January 2014. I am honored to have been named the Hearst Digital Media Professional-in-Residence at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism for the academic year 2013–14.

I will continue to consult with new and ongoing clients while I am at Columbia, collaborating as always with our global Garcia Media team. This teaching assignment will expose me to fresh ideas and energy from students and professors. Their theories and studies will undoubtedly carry over to my work with clients.

My Columbia responsibilities will include teaching a course in the spring semester on multi-platform storytelling, giving the Hearst Digital Media Lecture and participating in the Columbia Journalism School community in New York City.

While I have not officially been a professor since 1988, I have never stopped teaching. Teaching is what I do every day as I work with teams of talented and enthusiastic publishers, editors and designers. I work to help them update their skills, adapt to rapid change in the news-media industry and experiment with ways to improve their publications on every platform.

“The newsroom is a classroom,” I often say. The lunch hour often becomes a mini-seminar, and the late-night conversation before the launch of a project becomes review for the final exam. Of course, the presentations, keynote speeches and workshops I give are not far removed from academic lectures and seminars. And I have presented and led workshops not just for individual newspapers and magazines but also for professional organizations, colleges and universities around the globe.

What the Columbia Journalism School appointment does is to bring me back to the classroom in a formal way, something I have been considering for a number of years, especially after I had the opportunity to work with the team of the Yale Daily News at Yale University in 2008. I will also be working closely with our Garcia Media art director and project manager Reed Reibstein, who will be my teaching assistant for the class at Columbia. Reed and I will continue our work with Garcia Media projects.

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In front of Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism’s Pulitzer Hall, after a meeting with Dean of Academic Affairs Bill Grueskin

Why return to the classroom?

I can’t recall a time when our craft has undergone a more dramatic and turbulent period of change. I feel it whenever I walk into a newsroom. Every week I spend considerable time working with key players in charge of creating the newspaper, magazine or digital platform of the future. In each case, we have to grapple with the clash between traditional forms of journalism and modern-day digital storytelling. The critical decisions at these organizations are made at the nexus at which storytelling meets marketing and technology meets design.

The Hearst appointment and the environment of Columbia Journalism School, with its world-class students and top-rated faculty, provide the perfect platform for me to combine my two passions: journalism and teaching. And considering that Columbia is in New York City, a place where any beat can find fertile ground for expansion and development, it is apparent that this appointment is a magnificent opportunity at the right time.

I want to spend an entire semester with a group of graduate students who represent the future of our industry, and who will start their careers as storytellers at this incredibly exciting time. I want to share my 41 years of experience in this marvelous business with them.

I want to tell students stories of witnessing major shifts and turbulent times that seemed to rock the craft to its foundations: the arrival of cold type, the colorization of newspapers, the first intrusion of computers, the tsunami that was the Internet and online editions, and, finally, the new mobile platforms. Time and again, embracing storytelling in all its forms has been the winning strategy.

This will be the basis of my course: In the age of the tablet, mobile phone, website and printed edition, it is storytelling that matters most. I plan to concentrate on how to present great stories visually so that they will seduce readers and users. I want to initiate discussions that center on the four centerpieces of our craft today: storytelling, technology, marketing and design.

Most importantly, I want to spend at least a portion of each class discussing the impact of change. Change, I keep repeating, should be an academic subject. It is the elephant in the room. It affects project outcomes. It affects relationships. It pits editor against reporter, publisher against editor, designer against developer. The brightest minds in our business are often unable to cope with change. This is something we as an industry must remedy, and soon.

Now you see why I am excited. I am grateful to Dean of Academic Affairs Bill Grueskin, with whom I worked most recently at The Wall Street Journal, for facilitating the process and inspiring my return to academia. I also look forward to working with Dean Steve Coll.

How about Garcia Media and consulting?

While I will be in residence at Columbia, I will be enjoying the activities of a professor: teaching, researching, talking to students, guiding them in their thesis work and exchanging ideas with my colleagues at what some consider to be the world’s finest graduate school of journalism. I will continue my work as a consultant for clients, though I will limit my travel commitments for the five months I am in residence.

My class at Columbia will provide me with an opportunity to reach some talented future storytellers. I am confident I will learn as much from them as I hope they will learn from me.

It is an energizing next chapter in what has been, thankfully, an incredible career.

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