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Expert in New Media Chosen to Lead Journalism Department

Administrator leaves venerable program at Iowa State University to join UC’s new department, enhancing its ability to train students for the future of journalism.

Date: 7/5/2012
By: Tom Robinette
Phone: (513) 556-8577
As journalism enters a new era, so too does the University of Cincinnati’s capacity to teach it. The man picked to lead the university’s charge in this brave new media world is Jeffrey Blevins.

It was announced in February that UC’s journalism program would separate from its longtime home in the Department of English and Comparative Literature and become its own independent department. On June 26, UC’s Board of Trustees approved the appointment of Blevins as its department head.
Jeffrey Blevins was hired as the new head of the Journalism Department.

“New and social media has presented some of the greatest challenges and opportunities for the institution of journalism,” Blevins says. “We should not dismiss new media but rather figure out how to use it legally, ethically and in a socially responsible way, and train our students to use it in a way that’s going to make journalism better. I was glad to see I was among kindred spirits at UC.”

Blevins leaves Iowa State University where he served as the director of undergraduate education in the Greenlee School of Journalism & Communication since 2010 and has been on the faculty since 2004. Before joining Iowa State, he spent three years as assistant professor in the Department of Broadcast and Cinematic Arts at Central Michigan University. He has a BS and MS (’95, ’98) in mass communication from Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville and a PhD (’01) in telecommunication from Ohio University.

Jon Hughes, professor and director of the journalism program in the McMicken College of Arts & Sciences, said Blevins is an excellent choice for department head because his proven record as a leader, teacher and professional journalist will enhance the program’s already strong foundation in those same areas.

“What Jeff brings to the program extends and really complements what we offer now, and that’s perfect,” Hughes says. “He brings knowledge of issues and skills that are the future of journalism.”

The hiring of Blevins completes a search that began in fall quarter 2011 in anticipation of the new department being formed. On paper, Blevins had many of the qualities that the search committee coveted: administrative experience in an academic setting; expertise in new media and media law; a prolific scholarly and professional publishing history; and in-depth knowledge of the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications requirements.

Hughes, a member of the search committee, said such impressive career credentials helped make Blevins a unanimous selection by the committee. Of particular note was his familiarity with accrediting standards. The new Journalism Department is working toward national accreditation, and Hughes said the committee saw Blevins’ background at Iowa State – one of the longest continuously accredited journalism programs in the nation – as an invaluable resource.

What’s more, Hughes said Blevins scored points for his engaging personality.

“Blevins is familiar with the accrediting process. He brings in exactly what we need to know that we don’t know,” Hughes says. “He’s a real personable guy. He’s going to be a wonderful fit for the department.”

Search committee member Marjorie Fox, head of the College-Conservatory of Music’s Electronic Media Division, echoed Hughes’ thoughts on Blevins’ demeanor and noted his interest in an interdisciplinary approach to journalism.

“He seemed to be a good collaborative person,” Fox says. “He will fit in well with the culture in the department and is someone everybody will respect.”

Blevins says the decision to leave Iowa State wasn’t easy, but ultimately this unique opportunity at UC was too hard to ignore. Blevins, a St. Louis native, noted many reasons he was won over, including being able to guide the formation of a new department, the century-old history of The News Record as an independent campus newspaper, the work done by the New Media Bureau led by educator assistant professor Bob Jonason, and the program’s reputation for producing amazing graduates who have gone on to high-profile media careers across the country.

Blevins will officially assume his new role Aug. 15, and he’s eager to start working with the faculty and students. During his first semester he expects to lean on Hughes for support and to draw upon the professionalism and enthusiasm from the faculty, whom he says won his heart.

He’s just as excited to get to know more students. During his on-campus interview, he was introduced to some students and came away impressed by how they presented their work and their understanding of new media.

“I thought, ‘These students have it right,’” he says. “I wanted to know how I could facilitate that and help it shine a little brighter.”

Blevins wants the program to distinguish itself through an emphasis on new media and a finely tuned balance between journalism theory and practical training. He says in a world where the rules of the game seem to be changing so rapidly and ambiguously, teaching students the fundamentals of their craft is essential. For example, without a disciplined approach to social media, student journalists could find themselves in an ethical quandary faster than you can tweet “#defamation.”

“Given the immediacy of new and social media and how widespread mistakes can become, that sense of legal caution needs to be there for students,” Blevins says. “Equally as important is using these tools in a socially responsible and ethical way. We need to know what our rights are, but we also need to be well aware of what our responsibility should be.”

In the face of widespread financial struggles and dramatic philosophical changes rippling through the industry, Blevins’ faith in the importance of journalism remains rock solid. He says the need for good journalism is stronger than ever, especially as the media continues to be a growing factor in our daily lives. Today’s generation of students is a new breed of media consumer. They have grown up in a 24-hour news cycle world, and Blevins says they are interested in studying journalism to harness the power of media.

That’s why he says now is when journalism is needed most.

“Just because the industry is changing doesn’t mean it’s going away or it’s not needed,” Blevins says. “We’re seeing a lot more entrepreneurial journalism. We’re also seeing a lot of students who don’t want to be journalists full time, but they want to know about media. They want to know how to have a successful blog or website for their business, or how to contact news agencies and promote what they’re doing.  There are a lot of opportunities in journalism and in media. One of the worst things we could do is dismiss that and say, ‘Well it’s not Woodward and Bernstein.’ The way I was trained is that all news stories are human stories.”

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