Ohio Journalist

Smitty Schuneman

By Brooke Bunce

(December 1, 2015) — With seven successful years down, the Schuneman Symposium on Photojournalism and New Media is looking ahead to nearly another decade of exemplary media presentations.

At its core, the symposium is a result of two dedicated alumni who wanted to leave a lasting impression on their alma mater.

ORIGINS

R. Smith “Smitty” Schuneman and his wife, Patricia, both graduates of Ohio University, formed their estate plan in 2007 and 2008. It included a gift of 15 yearly contributions of $33,000, which would go toward funding an annual conference focused on the evolution of new media. Each conference would take a hard look at the most recent concerns and fundamentals in both visual and written media. The grant was awarded to the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism in 2008, and the initial symposium rolled out in 2009.

A major goal of each Schuneman Symposium, as envisioned by the Schunemans, is to look toward the future. How will journalists, professors, students, citizens and professionals work toward modifying traditional news media while also transforming media technologies? Experts in both traditional and new media are invited to participate in the symposia. Each year’s speakers discuss new ideas about mass media, as well as share their experiences and knowledge about the field.

The Schuneman Symposium also provides a yearly forum to discuss broader goals of media, such as democratic ideals. Schuneman himself has said these include “how to maintain and improve the nation’s free press system, the people’s right to know and freedom of information.”

The sometimes-overlooked, though extremely crucial, economic side of media is also explored; that is, how to create superior content at a price consumers are willing to accept.

A COMBINATION OF NEW AND OLD

In the quickly evolving world of new media, Schuneman said he realizes that the aspiring journalist is now expected to be a jack-of-all-trades.

“No longer are there newspaper reporters, newspaper photographers, magazine writers, magazine photographers, TV reporters and videographers. Every journalist is expected to be all of these!” Schuneman said. “In reality, that is too tall an order of skills to be performed at the blue ribbon level by any single journalist.”

The symposium also seeks to find a middle ground for content creators who are struggling to gain expertise in multiple mediums. It strives to provide student journalists more realistic solutions to this modern dilemma.

Over the past six years, the Schuneman Symposium has featured speakers that run the gamut of media expertise and specialization. The 2015 symposium featured speakers from Twitter, Spotify, Fusion.net, Wondersauce and others.

In 2012, the symposium played host to William Albert Allard, a National Geographic photographer who showcased the importance of the visual side.

“Seeing his profound color images proved the value of concentrated commitment to work as a photographer,” Schuneman said.

Choosing a favorite symposium year, however, is like trying to choose a favorite child for Schuneman. Many of the presenters were fellow classmates or former students, he said. Yet, some of the most wonderful contributions were also from people he had never heard of before the symposium.

Nerissa Young, a journalism instructor at Scripps, helps to coordinate each symposium. She sees no reason why students shouldn’t attend the presentations.

“This is an opportunity to talk to people who are the best in their field. These are not has-beens; these are people working in the industry right now. To me it’s a no-brainer,” Young said.

Young incorporates the speakers’ presentations and concepts they discussed into her coursework. She said that when students see young speakers from the industry, it excites them and reassures them about where they could end up after leaving college.

The symposium is yet another opportunity for the OU journalism community to connect with the greater Athens community, Young added.

“Sometimes we miss opportunities to educate the public to say, ‘This is what we do,’” she said. “We are constantly having to make a case for journalism. We need to seize these opportunities to interact and explain and talk about why we do what we do and to celebrate the folks who are doing it right.”

THE NEXT TEN YEARS

The symposium also has brought the School of Journalism and the School of Visual Communication together to select program speakers who exemplify excellence in media.

“This is an added benefit of the Schuneman gift,” said Stewart.

Schuneman said he and his wife “[look] forward to attending as many of these future events as our health will allow, and [look forward] to the personal values we gain during each of the meetings with other conferees, speakers’ presentations and members of the Ohio faculty.”

And even after graduating from OU more than 50 years ago, Schuneman is captivated by the university’s ability to care for students. This, he said, is what compelled him and his wife to leave a gift for future generations.

“It is a university that really still cares about students in a fundamental and absolute way,” he said. “OU has just never lost its way, and it still cares about the students first of all, and it sees to it that they get the best education that they are willing to get.”

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