Mark Lodato, the new dean of the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, brings a deep background of local TV news and university teaching and administration experience to the position.
Mark Lodato is the new dean of S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. Lodato brings a deep background of local TV news and university teaching and administration experience to the position.
I worked with Mark Lodato in the early ’90s when he was a reporter for WINK, the CBS affiliate in Fort Myers, Fla.
Since then, Lodato’s broadcast career took him to TV stations in Phoenix (both KNXV and KPHO) and at WUSA in Washington.
His academic experience began as an adjunct professor at Arizona State University, then to the University of Maryland where he was a news director and lecturer at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism.
Before Lodato began at Syracuse, he spent 10 years as an assistant and associate dean at Arizona State University’s, Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.
Given his background, I wondered what his goals are, how his local TV broadcast career is a help in his role and how much local TV news is on the radar of Syracuse journalism graduates as a career.
Here’s an edited transcript with Lodato conducted in mid-October. Throughout the interview are examples, chosen at random, of Syracuse student-produced news stories from NCC News, which is produced by students in the broadcast and digital journalism program.
Greeley: So Dean Lodato, what are your goals, what are you charged to do?
I am fortunate to have come to an institution with a strong legacy of success and support. This is really an opportunity to bring some fresh ideas to the table and help an already strong program succeed at an even higher level. I think the Newhouse School is blessed with a very talented and diverse faculty and as well as strong financial support that has together produced amazing opportunities for our students and the proof is in our graduates who are in all facets of communication from news to entertainment and production and really succeeding at the highest level.
Since you mentioned Syracuse graduates who are in the news business, how important is local TV news in that equation?
I can tell you that local television news is still a key employment pipeline for our school and our students. And I suspect that will remain to be for many years to come because we all know that so many consumers rely on various local news outlets to understand what is happening in their communities. Schools like Newhouse and others still want to insure that our students are well prepared for rather traditional career paths like local television news.
How does your experience working in the local television news business help you in your job?
It helps me tremendously for various reasons. First of all, over the course of 30 years you build up wonderful contacts and relationships that I can now leverage to advance the goals of the school. Whether that is professional partnerships where our students are actually creating content for media outlets or employment pipelines and research activities. The relationships you build over time and I would like to think that I have built a strong track record of engagement and collaboration at my time in Arizona State and even going back to my University of Maryland days that are benefiting the Newhouse school today.
That is one facet of it. The other is, I understand what kind of newsrooms these students and graduates are walking into, and the challenges that they are facing today. I think when you have that personal experience, you can leverage that to make your own school that much stronger and that is something that I have tried to do for a long time.
When students ask about working in TV news, what do you tell them it was like?
I had this conversation with a group of students just last week. I tell them that journalism is usually important considering that it’s a part of our democracy that we can’t lose sight of. It’s a career path that you can feel good about and that you are making a difference in people’s lives. At the same time, you have to be extremely dedicated to the craft and the industry because it is challenging.
It is long hours, often not great pay and you have to be really personally driven to find success in the field because there are no handouts along the way. You have got to earn your keep and I think the beauty of strong programs like the Newhouse School is we have the people and facilities in place to give some students the kind of experience so they understand what it will take to succeed in the professional environment.
Honestly, I think one of the biggest challenges for both the industry and schools today is helping these next generations of students understand what television news really is and the opportunities that lie there because it is not the traditional way in which they are consuming media today. We have to do a little bit more relationship building to make sure that they understand what this space is all about and the opportunities that are there. It is much different than it was twenty years ago when local television news was the primary goal of a vast majority of graduates, and today that is not the case.
It doesn’t mean there aren’t great opportunities, but it is incumbent on all of us to help these younger students understand what this is all about and the opportunities that are there.
What do Syracuse students want when they graduate?
That is a really smart question. I think students want to see that their work is making a difference and they don’t want the feeling that they are walking into some sort of factory. They want a more varied, creative experience and that is why I hear so many are getting burned out after two or three years on the job.
There is a creativity element that is missing for many graduates today in a traditional newsroom environment. Television news is not the big bright shiny destination that it was 10 or 15 years ago. There are many different platforms and industries in which these students can go to that is frankly much more engaging for their age group. That is what TV companies and other traditional media outlets are finding today.
I am sure your school sees broadcast people come and go as they are trying to recruit your people. How does that work?
We have a very strong career development center that coordinates visits from media companies year-round and those today are happening often in a virtual sense which is fine. So we have a very robust recruitment team in place to assist companies and their efforts and they do a good job and the students really appreciate the opportunity to have face to face or in this case often video conversations with recruiters
Syracuse graduates are among the very best and have been so for many decades. So we have become a very reliable source and that is not going to change any time soon. The beauty of being a school with our size and strength is we will have plenty of students with an interest and expertise to really satisfy the job market for a long time. Local television news could be an outstanding place to start your career where you want to be a strong communicator, a strong writer, a critical thinker and with the ability to work under tight deadlines. And those are wonderful attributes that you can point to in a lot of different directions.