G. Stuart Smith, Associate Professor of Journalism, Media Studies, and Public Relations
Journalism Professor's New Book and Course Meet a Growing Industry Need
In the black of night, the camera focuses in on a pair of legs wading through the knee-deep, murky waters of a remote swamp before it pans out to an image of armed police officers in pursuit of drug smugglers. Thus began a news story reported, filmed and edited entirely by G. Stuart Smith, who in the 1970s was a young journalist working for the NBC affiliate near Charlotte County, Florida. As a one-person bureau, he covered his beats alone, taking on the roles of both reporter and cameraman.
Little did he know then that 35 years later, he'd be writing about those experiences in Going Solo: Doing Videojournalism in the 21st Century (University of Missouri Press, 2011), a cutting-edge book aimed at training a digital generation of aspiring journalists how to singlehandedly create all the elements of a broadcast or Web video story. Smith, an associate professor of journalism at Hofstra since 2003, also uses his book to teach a new required course called Multimedia Journalism Video, preparing students to meet the growing need in a money-strapped industry for "backpack" journalists who can do it all.
Professor Smith, who has produced two documentary films and won more than two dozen awards over the years for his work as a videojournalist, had initially considered becoming
a lawyer or going into the military as a teen growing up in Albion, Indiana. But in the late 1960s, when he was a junior in high school, his interests changed as he began to question the government's role in the Vietnam War. "I didn't trust government, and I understood even as a young person that they were telling us lies during the war, so I really wanted to speak truth to power," he says. "Over the years as I worked as a reporter, I found that there are a lot of honest people in government, but there are also others who are in public service for the wrong reason. I've tried to point out both in my work."
As a reporter for the college paper at Ball State University, Smith started to understand the power of the written word:"I really started seeing that I could have an influence. When I write something, people react to it." Feeling his strengths lay more on the broadcast side, Smith minored in radio/TV along with a double major in journalism and political science, and would later go on to complete graduate studies in broadcast journalism at the University of Missouri, home to the country's first-ever collegiate journalism school.
His first professional job was at WCTW-WMDH, a small AM/FM radio station in New Castle, Indiana, where he was reporter, then news director. "My beat was the county courthouse, and I'd go down there every day looking for news, talking to public officials in the various county offices or covering meetings," Smith recalled recently. "And I began to see, over and over, that some people during the election season would be working on campaign materials in their offices, which was blatantly illegal. So I reported on that." The move left him ostracized, but he didn't regret it. "I was serving the public, and officials should not have been working on campaigns during public time. This is why I got into journalism, and it took time but people eventually respected my work and saw that what I was reporting was true and right."
Smith's commitment to unbiased reporting helped him break a story during the Watergate scandal. "I was in Indiana, far removed from Washington, D.C., but our congressman, David Dennis, was on the House Judiciary Committee, which was investigating the impeachment of President Nixon." Anytime Smith saw something on the newswires about the Judiciary Committee, he'd call Dennis, a staunch Republican and Nixon loyalist, for comment. When the Supreme Court ordered Nixon to release the tapes and Dennis saw the damning evidence, he called Smith to tell him that he was now voting against the president. "He called me – I didn't call him – because I had built up that contact with him over many months, and he trusted me to tell the truth about his perspective," says Smith. His exclusive with the only Indiana official on the Judiciary Committee won his small local station some impressive statewide coverage.
During 17 years as a reporter, videographer and special projects producer in Fort Myers, Smith interviewed sources and shot video on subjects that ranged from important community issues (contaminated drinking water, harmful pesticides) to the quirky and offbeat (a Big Foot sighting). Then, as a senior reporter during the recession of the 1990s, he agreed to work for a while with a pay cut and fewer hours before turning his sights north and on teaching. It was time for a change, he says.
At Hofstra, Smith was encouraged by Carol Rich, then chair of the Journalism Department, to beef up the broadcast classes, which had up to that point been designed by professors with print backgrounds. "After I was there about a year, I told my colleagues that we've got all the pieces here for a converged newsroom. We needed to have a place where students could work and feel like they were producing an actual news product and not just doing class projects, so in the fall of 2004, I made a proposal for what eventually became NewsHub," Hofstra's state-of-the-art newsroom and multimedia classroom. He credits colleague Sybil DelGaudio, at the time dean of the School of Communication, for much of NewsHub's success. "I thought we would just convert one of the existing classrooms but once she got hold of the idea, she really made it into something bigger and greater than I had ever conceived," he notes.
One of Smith's goals over the years at Hofstra was to make sure journalism students learned how to not only write and report the news, but also shoot and edit video, a task that had been handled by students in the Radio, Television, Film (RTVF) Department. "My colleagues in RTVF agreed with this also, and slowly we've absorbed more and more of what the RTVF students were doing for broadcast journalism students."
In fact, starting this year, the Department of Journalism, Media Studies and Public Relations has done away with "broadcast" or "print" tracks, instead requiring all journalism students to learn basic multimedia skills along with other core classes such as reporting, law and ethics. Students still have the flexibility to study and master one area such as magazine writing, broadcast journalism, online journalism or information graphics.
Next up, Smith hopes that journalism students will soon have the ability to produce a daily television newscast. "We're doing that now with WRHU, which is such a wonderful tool for students. They do 24/7 broadcasting, including a lot of news reporting, and it's a great deadline-driven experience. I'd love to see something similar on the TV side to help us get to the next level."
Professor Smith is now working on a book and documentary project about his great aunt Elizebeth Smith Friedman and her husband, William Friedman, who were pioneer code breakers for the American government.