On May 16, the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications hosted a panel discussion with the four 2019 Medill Hall of Achievement inductees. In a conversation mediated by Medill Board of Advisers Chair Elizabeth Heller Allen (Medill ‘75), Donna Leff (Medill ‘70, ‘71), Brett Pulley (Medill ‘87), Don Schultz and Mary Lou Song (Medill ‘91) discussed privacy, censorship and journalism values and practices at a crowded McCormick Foundation Center Forum.    

“Somebody said to me that the only thing that these four inductees have in common is that they all went to Medill,” Heller Allen, who herself was inducted into the Medill Hall of Achievement in 1997, said. “That’s true, but they are all brave. They are all innovative. Medill can open up a world for everybody, and that is why I think our class is so distinctive this year.”

By Augusta Saraiva / North by Northwestern

In addition to Medill faculty and staff, students of different tracks attended the event. Medill sophomore Nina Cong, who is interested in digital media, was impressed by the possibilities and paths that a Medill education opens up.

“Only after the Hall of Achievement did I realize that we have a very strong alumni base at Medill, with people working different projects in different industries,” Cong said.

Although all four inductees followed different career paths, they agreed that technology, as well as its ups and downs, needs to be part of the conversation in the journalism industry.

With more than 20 years of experience with technology companies, Song, who is now the executive chair at FuelX, a digital advertising company that she founded in 2013, answered various questions from the audience about online privacy. Song believes that “privacy is dead” and said she “would need a drink” to elaborate on the topic.

“What we don’t realize is that we’ve created this really morbid environment and economy of attribution and tracking,” Song said, to which Schultz, the Medill professor emeritus-in-service known as “the Father of IMC,” later added that “privacy was a really interesting idea when everybody wore a loincloth.”

When questioned about the issue of censorship, Schultz argued that the U.S. is no longer a free country. Although he thinks that “the media makes the ultimate decision,” Schultz believes that there are elements constraining its work and reach.

“The choice we’re gonna have to make is, ‘Are we gonna try to control our voices?’ Because we have a system in place today and that is exactly what seems to be happening in the United States. We’re trying to control the voices,” Schultz said. “If you don’t believe in what I say, you’re wrong.”

“That’s exactly what Don is like in the faculty meetings,” Leff, who is the longest-serving full-time Medill faculty, joked before adding that “we do have a democracy, and it’s struggling to survive, but the media are quite free in this country.” Leff believes that the biggest impediment to journalism is not censorship, but the economics of the profession. In order to overcome professional challenges, Leff said that more resources should be spent on expanding students’ horizons, which would include language learning programs and economics and statistics classes.  

Other inductees also shared personal advice with Medill students.

Described by Heller Allen as the “Renaissance Man of Medill,” Pulley (Medill ‘87) has had a dynamic career. Now a top executive at Weber Shandwick, one of the world’s leading communications firms, Pulley has previously worked for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and Forbes Magazine, and served as dean of Hampton University’s journalism school. When asked to share some advice with Medill students, Pulley said that “it is extremely important for students to recognize that there are critical stories that are not getting the attention they deserve.”

“I think it’s critical to immerse them in information,” Pulley said. “You want students to be voracious consumers of information. What empowers a person to write well more than anything? We teach the stuff, we train them, but nothing empowers you more as a writer than information. That’s what leads to great writing.”

The Medill Hall of Achievement was established in 1997 to honor annually “Medill alumni and individuals whose distinctive careers have had positive effects on their fields, including journalism, the arts, business, academia, nonprofits, other industries or the Medill community.” In over 20 years, more than 150 people have been inducted.