Attention Journalism Students: Bob Woodward Is More Than a Figure in American History

There are some questions about how relevant Bob Woodward is to college students studying journalism in 2013. A capacity crowd for Woodward’s lecture Friday night at University of Alabama included only a few journalism students.

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Woodward THEN- in the 1970s as a reporter for The Washington Post. Courtesy: http://www.achievement.com

You couldn’t tell it by the standing-room only crowd that came to hear Washington Post Associate Editor Bob Woodward Friday night.

But, dozens of University of Alabama journalism students missed what for me was a once-in-lifetime opportunity:  A Chance to Hear and Meet One of the Greatest Journalists Ever.

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Present and Former Fellows of the Blackburn Institute, a leadership program here at University of Alabama, took the front rows at Friday’s lecture by Washington Post Associate Editor Bob Woodward. UA President Judy Bonner and Vice President for Student Affairs Mark Nelson were also in attendance.

I left the outstanding lecture with mixed feelings- EXCITED and ENERGIZED about what we do as journalists, but ANGRY because so many of our journalism students did not show up.   I saw fewer than 20 of the students in our classes here at the University attendance.

We have more than 300 majors in the UA journalism department.

This was such an important event that we invited students from the Society of Professional Journalists from Auburn University and Jacksonville State University to make the more than two-hour drive to Tuscaloosa for the lecture.

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Students from Auburn University’s Society of Professional Journalists chapter took a photo with Bob Woodward after his lecture Friday night at University of Alabama.

And, the AU And JSU students both had delegations at the event, which was sponsored by UA’s Blackburn Institute.

We had dozens of high school journalists in town for the Alabama Scholastic Press Association Winter Convention.  But only one or two schools came to hear Bob Woodward, even though we re-arranged the convention schedule to include the 6 p.m. lecture.

Who is Bob Woodward?

Today as I began a 3-hour videojournalism workshop with 15 middle school students from the Birmingham area,  I asked them what they knew about Bob Woodward.

Most were aware of his work connected to the Watergate scandal.  These 6th, 7th and 8th graders could name all the U.S. presidents who Woodward has interviewed and featured in his 17 books.

These students were really sharp.  But,  I wonder how many of my college students are equally as adept in their knowledge of civics?

A matter of memory and relevance

I don’t remember Watergate.  It happened when I was two years old.

I told the middle school group today that the first president I can remember was Jimmy Carter whose inauguration we watched in the cafeteria when I was in 1st grade at Richmond Mary Scott Elementary School.

But, when you talk about why we do journalism, it’s hard not to point to the stellar investigative work of  Seymour Hersh, Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein and more recently, Brett Blackledge.

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Bob Woodward addressed a capacity crowd in Sellers Auditorium at the Bryant Conference Center Friday night. The event was sponsored by University of Alabama’s Blackburn Institute.

As was evident in much of his address last night, Woodward is very much engaged in the policy issues that confront the White House and Congress today.

In fact, in his remarks Friday night,  he referenced his latest writing this weekend about the sequester, the $85 billion in spending cuts set to take effect March 1.

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Members of The Crimson White staff had a separate meeting with Bob Woodward on Friday when the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist was in town for the Blackburn Institute’s Winter Symposium.

There were a handful of UA journalism students there.  A few of the members staff of the student newspaper,  The Crimson White, had a separate meeting with Woodward earlier on Friday.

What could be more important than hearing and meeting Bob Woodward?

Perhaps it’s a matter of relevance.   Sports figures, pop culture icons and other celebrities are more relevant to today’s students.

If they’re not studying public policy or leadership, should students  be engaged with people like Bob Woodward?

Author: George Daniels

George L. Daniels is an associate professor of journalism at the University of Alabama. After spending eight years in the local television newsroom working as a producer at stations in Richmond, Virginia; Cincinnati, Ohio; and Atlanta, Georgia, Daniels moved from the newsroom to the classroom. He’s conducted research on diversity issues in the media workplace and change in the television newsroom as well as media convergence. Before going to work in television news, Daniels worked briefly as a freelance writer for The Richmond Free Press in his hometown of Richmond, Va.

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