Last month, Lee Huebner, director of the School of Media and Public Affairs, announced that he would not be back next year. On Friday, University officials announced that Frank Sesno has been named the new director after a unanimous vote from SMPA faculty and approval from the dean of the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences. After spending 18 years at CNN, including a tenure as Washington Bureau Chief, Sesno has garnered a great deal of prestige and credibility. This announcement will raise the profile of SMPA and offer the school a chance to reorient its approach to the intersection of traditional journalism and new media.
Sesno’s nomination will bring a journalist with decades of experience to the helm of SMPA. His connections in the world of politics and media will likely prove invaluable. The extremely popular SMPA event that brought five former secretaries of state to campus is an example of Sesno at work, and if we can expect events with even half of this magnitude, Sesno will be a major success.
At the same time, it is important to articulate a clear direction for the school. In particular, SMPA must train journalism students with the skills necessary to practice successful journalism – that is, strong reporting, strong writing and an understanding of new approaches to storytelling. The school must not abandon its teaching of multimedia reporting; the two are not exclusive. Reporting remains the basic building block for all journalism, and yet, each student must be equipped to confront the challenges of journalism in the 21st century.
Luckily, Sesno has a deep understanding of how traditional reporting meets new media technologies and is in a good position to take the school forward into an evolving industry. An example of Sesno’s work in this field is Planet Forward, a Web- and television-based project he organized with PBS that accepted users’ videos about the environment and then had experts provide commentary and response.
Strong leadership is a necessary part of achieving success at SMPA. We look forward to Sesno’s efforts, and will carefully watch his tenure at the helm.
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