Letters Home: Mark Poepsel

Mark Poepsel graduated from Mizzou in 2002 with a
degree in broadcast journalism. After working as a general
assignment reporter for several TV stations, he's now an
assistant professor at Loyola University in New Orleans.
Here’s the thing, Mark,

If I’m writing a letter to myself as an undergraduate at Mizzou, I might not say the things about being savvy about converged technology or about learning computer programming or iOS/Droid app development that ONA might want me to say.

Instead, I’d say this: Get out of the house. Don’t take that weekend reporting shift. Go to a few parties and network because the people who are your friends today are your job contacts in the future. The only thing a purely academic life prepares you for is an academic life. This has worked out for “future you” pretty well, but it’s not the way to become the next great foreign correspondent or the next maker of Oscar-winning documentary films.

You got into the J-school because you’re smart, across the board smart – English, math, science, social sciences, etc. You can learn just about anything you spend two weeks on. I’m not worried about your tech skills, your ability to work on multiple platforms or your drive and passion for journalism.

I’d tell you to develop better people skills, so that those first jobs in tiny cities aren’t quite so miserable when it turns out no one else graduated Phi Beta Kappa, and they don’t really care that you do.

To graduate student Mark, I’d say to bite the bullet and start in on statistical analysis classes right off the bat. Go ahead and learn quantitative research methods because those skills can make it easier to complete research projects that get published. It’s no guarantee, but your ability to develop logical approaches to qualitative data is not in question. Learning quant skills takes time, and the return on the investment could be great!

Finally, for both versions – undergraduate J-school student from 1998-2002 and doctoral student from 2008-11 – you need to think in terms of strategy.

The future of media is not which funding model will win out among advertising, subscription, premium content, own the store, find a benefactor, crowd-fund or innovate. It’s about finding a model that can take advantage of all or most of them. You need to research, teach and work in those meta-terms instead of getting involved in stupid arguments about how to “save journalism.” Do you even know what that means?

Thinking strategically is probably not about which social media tools are best but about recognizing that what they do – enable people to share with each other – is really valuable. A strategic thinker would look more at the “why” than the “how” and “what”.

I mean, if you thought Facebook was the be all end all because it enabled us to bring to life our existing social networks in an online or “virtual” environment, how do you explain Pinterest?

Pinterest is about enabling you to share bite-sized content with people you may or may not know as long as it looks good to eat or prêt-à-porter. Twitter is about sharing personal information with masses of people you are not necessarily tangibly interacting with at all.

These currently popular social networking platforms/portals have in common that they take to the online sphere things we were doing or things we would like to have been doing anyway. They are different enough to fill their own niche until something better comes along. So you should be looking at researching, creating or working within niches that haven’t yet been exploited.

Ultimately, I think it’s all going to converge into a “lifeOS” in which your online life and real life are more integrated. Look at the things you do now and the things you would like to do, and imagine how it would look if you did it online, in real time and in high-definition, and then ask yourself if what you've imagined is any better than just, doing it in real, 3D life. Where can connectivity help? Where can it add value? Where can it collapse time and space in a meaningful way? And where did I put that recipe for homemade peanut butter cups?

Mark Poepsel

BJ '02 Broadcast, '11 Doctorate
Loyola University (New Orleans) assistant professor


Check out the rest of the Letters Home series

Editor's note: If you're a Mizzou journalism alum who would like to contribute to the Letters Home series, send us an email at onamizzou@gmail.com with your letter, your name, your sequence and graduation year, your current job and contact information.

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