In 1963, it all started with a phone call from Washington, D.C., to Syracuse University, proposing a new idea for military journalism. Since then, the faculty of S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications used their unique blend of expertise to train and educate the finest communicators, photographers and journalists in the military today.
“I got a call from Washington from the Navy department”, said Fred Demarest, retired director of military photojournalism at Newhouse. “They asked me if I would be interested in designing a program, an academic year-long program to train photojournalists for the military service, particularly the Navy and the Marine Corps.”
“It seems that they had taken the responsibility for covering an event that President Kennedy was witnessing, which was a maneuver off the coast of North Carolina”, said Demarest. “The Navy was covering the event, and they weren’t happy with the results they got. So, they figured they needed to do something to improve their photography and journalistic aspects. So, that's why they called me.”
For a while, things went on this way. But the military wanted the training in a shorter time, from a yearlong academic study, down to six short weeks. The faculty wasn’t pleased.
“I felt and the rest of us felt it wasn’t something we could do effectively for two reasons; we didn’t have time to give the information, and the people didn’t have time enough to absorb enough to grow in that period”, said Demarest.
The program once again became a year-long study, not at Syracuse though. Once back to original length, several universities bid on the program.
“The University got the motion media program but did not get the photojournalism program”, said Nancy Austin, Deputy Director of Military Visual Journalism at Newhouse.
“It went to the Rochester Institute of Technology for 5 years. After that 5 year run at RIT, the government put out another request for proposal to universities and we bid on both programs and we’ve had both programs since 1991 now, running consecutively.”
In the early nineties, some faculty members saw a positive new direction for military members at Syracuse.
“Now you’ve got to understand, the Newhouse School in broadcast journalism was the number one program in the country at that time and we were very proud of it,” said Don Edwards, a professor of broadcast journalism at Newhouse. “So I said to myself, I wonder if the military has a program similar to that.”
At the time, the military was using a broadcast journalism course at another university. Luckily for Syracuse, the contract was about to expire and Edwards jumped at the opportunity.
“We made that military program into a much better program. It measured right up there with the broadcast journalism program we had at Newhouse and I’ve always been ever so proud that it was happening”, said Edwards.
“I was military for 26 years. Now that’s active and reserve duty so I had military blood, and one of the reasons that I had to make this the best damn program available to the military was because of that. So I made it happen, damn it! That program is outstanding; it still is.”
“I like to tell people that a military student pretty much gets the core of their major in the 10 months that they’re here”, said Austin.
“They take 5 Newhouse classes per semester that wouldn’t be allowed by a regular student. A freshman would come in and take COM 107 in the fall semester and then the second semester they might take introduction to news writing or like an RTN beginner class, writing class. And they would work their way up to 500 level classes that you’re taking the second semester. Seniors take COM 505. Freshmen take COM 107. And within two semesters you’ve gone from a freshman to a senior. It wouldn’t be allowed for a regular student to come in and sign up for 5 Newhouse classes for one semester because it’s too much.”
The demands of the program help today’s military meet the demands of an ever changing multimedia environment.
“They need skilled strategic communicators, people who can document and truthfully tell the purpose of and the results of American operations and multinational operations around the world”, said Colonel Lee Thomas, director of Defense Visual Information within the defense media activity, a field activity of the assistant secretary of defense of Public Affairs. “So today, we need our photojournalists and our videographers to not only understand how to get good content, but also to understand why they’re doing this job.”
“It exposes the student’s in the course to a different way of looking at things than just the military way”, said Demarest. “In other words, we challenged there thinking too”.
“I think we throw enough at you, some of it sticks, most of it sticks”, said Austin. “I think that lots of time after you leave, you realize you’ve learned something that you didn’t realize you did and I’ve actually heard that from several students.”
As the demands of the media environment continue to change, so does the course curriculum here at Newhouse. Just as you’re reading this article on a website designed for this program by this program, it’s just one of the many ways the students are adapting to meet your needs, our audience.