SMPA shifts director search, now looking for someone with news experience

The School of Media and Public Affairs has shifted direction in its search for a permanent director, and is now looking for candidates with practical work experience in the news media field.

SMPA no longer requires candidates to have a doctorate degree to be eligible to apply for the director position, said professor Steve Roberts, chair of the search committee in charge of fielding applicants for the position. Last year’s search, which ended in stagnation without hiring a new director, was “heavily weighted toward people with academic credentials,” he said.

The University’s top administrators are now pushing for a director who has worked in the media over someone with a background in academia.

“The decision was made at the top echelons of the University to revise the criteria and change the emphasis of the search,” Roberts said. “The list of (candidates) includes a number of well-known names from print and broadcast journalism that would be recognizable to many people,” he added, refusing to name potential candidates. Roberts, who is close with University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, is himself a practitioner of journalism, having worked for The New York Times and U.S. News and World Report.

Last year’s two top candidates, Marvin Kalb, a national media personality, and Robert Entman, the author of several mass media books and a professor of communications at North Carolina State University, reflected the type of divide within the SMPA faculty that has held up the two-year search. While some professors favor a hands-on media environment, others are pushing for a more theory-based curriculum.

Kalb, a veteran CBS and NBC correspondent who has strong ties to the University through his GW-sponsored radio show “The Kalb Report,” may have drawn criticism from faculty members who want the school to have a more theoretical focus. He withdrew himself from the race last April, citing frustration over the lengthy selection process.

“I had been disappointed with a number of things that I heard about the (selection) process itself, including some of the (GW) personalities involved,” Kalb, who did not name any professors or issues specifically, told The Hatchet in August.

Entman, who has written extensively about race and the media, said he wasn’t offered the director post but will join GW’s faculty as an SMPA professor in January.

In July, Trachtenberg told The Hatchet he was disappointed that the search was going to take another year. Former chair of the search committee and interim SMPA director Steve Livingston hoped to have a director in place this semester. Roberts said he expects the University will hire a new director sometime this spring.

“Things have speeded up,” Trachtenberg said in a recent interview. “I’m feeling much more energy behind the whole thing,” he said, adding that he thinks hiring Entman helped appease SMPA faculty members who were pushing for a “theoretician” director.

Roberts said he is very happy with the new direction of the search. He said the push toward a “practitioner” more accurately reflects the nature of SMPA’s educational direction.

“(SMPA) has two important traditions, two important approaches,” Roberts said, “the practical world of Washington journalism and a fine academic tradition.”

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