by Fernando Quintero
These days, the line between news and entertainment has gotten increasingly blurred. And the amount of time Internet surfers, TV viewers and even newspaper readers are willing to spend catching up on current events has gotten shorter and shorter.
For new Graduate School of Journalism Dean Orville Schell, a major challenge will be striking a balance between the demands of the marketplace and the school's standards of excellence.
On the first day of instruction at the recently refurbished North Gate Hall, where sun-splashed corridors were bustling with the next generation of media professionals, Schell sat calmly as he elaborated on the task at hand.
"The profession has radically changed in the last decade. It seems there are fewer ideal jobs for serious-minded journalists. But there are always new frontiers to be explored, experimental places to go," he said.
"My goal is for students to go out into the field with an understanding of what good writing and excellent reporting and documentary film making are, and then create their own opportunities where they can have a sense of professional integrity."
A master of long-form journalism and the country's leading expert on Asia, Schell brings a wealth of experience and expertise to his new position. He has written several books, produced documentary films and worked as a consultant for all three major television networks. He has been a correspondent for The New Yorker magazine and was founder of Pacific News Service.
Schell counts several fellowships, including a Guggenheim, among his many awards. He is a frequent contributor to the "Frontline" television series on PBS. And in 1992, he served as program consultant for the Emmy-winning "60 Minutes" report, "Made in China."
In addition to his impressive media credentials, Schell, 56, has been a passionate advocate of human rights as well as vice chair of Human Rights Watch/Asia.
Local food connoisseurs may recognize his name as half of the Neiman-Schell beef label. Schell's administrative experience includes running the hormone-free cattle ranch near his home in Bolinas.
Schell replaces Tom Goldstein, who has been the school dean since 1988 and who will resume his journalism faculty duties when he returns from a sabbatical.
"(Goldstein) left the school in good shape. I am presented with an opportunity to move on where he left off. I cannot tell you how important that is," Schell said. "Much credit is due to him."
Goldstein said he was "very pleased" to have Schell succeed him. "Orville is a journalist with a keen conscience, compelling ideas, high energy and unmatched experience in this country and in Asia. To know that this highly gifted journalist will lead this school into the next century gives me immense satisfaction," he said.
Schell, who graduated from Berkeley with an MA in Chinese Studies ('67) and from Harvard University with a BA in history, acknowledged some criticism over his lack of daily newsroom experience and the fact that he never attended journalism school.
"It's a gap in my experience. I have to leave that to others. In addition to our core faculty, we have about 20 working journalists coming in as lecturers," he said. "Students will be getting a solid education in journalism."
Schell said his main objectives include helping create a center of journalistic enterprise and raising the school's national visibility.
"This is a very good school, I want to see it become a great school. My hope is to create a situation that is unparalleled. Columbia University is a good school, but it's a high-speed assembly line. We're a two-year school where there are lots of things going on," he said.
Schell said he would also like to bring in teaching fellows similar to ones in programs at Harvard and Stanford, but with the advantage of having a journalism school for them to teach at.
"At Harvard, they have the Neiman Fellows but no journalism school. At Stanford, with the Knight Fellows, they have a communications department, but no journalism school. And we have a journalism school but no fellows," he said. "My hope is to have fellowships with people who do their own research and teach."
Schell has also made plans to establish a "Frontline West" office on campus, with a resident producer who works with students.
"My overall goal is to establish a kind of collegium where teachers, practitioners and students come together and work," he said. "This is a wonderful place to do that. We have a coherent community and a wonderful building with a beautiful courtyard. What could be more felicitous?"