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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The College Journalism Professor and Citizen Newspapers

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Professor Al Miller has taught Journalism, Screenwriting and Voice and Diction at Moorpark College, in Ventura County, for some 35 years. In the mid 60’s, his radio resume included stints as director of news operation and news editor for WILL-am and WIL-FM in Illinois and he also held positions as a newscaster at WGK Atlanta. He was a participant throughout the beginnings of cable broadcast and video, as we know it today, and also as we experienced it in the past. He is the holder of two A.B. (Artium Baccalaureus) degrees from the University of North Carolina. The first was earned with a major in History and the second in the category of Radio, Television and Motion Pictures. Not content with these educational achievements, Mr Miller went on to earn a Master’s degree from the College of Journalism at the University of Illinois. In 1966, he began a teaching career as an Assistant Professor of Journalism at the University of Georgia. 1969 was the big year, Al just said “F*** it, I want to be where the action is” and with his credit card in one hand, and his wife and child in the other, they headed for California. It was Georgia’s loss, and California’s gain.

On his first day in our sunny state, Al Miller was hired as the News Director of a one hour cable TV newscast that served Newport Beach, Mission Viejo, and Seal Beach. It is the current belief that this was the nation’s FIRST cable T.V. newscast! Mr Miller says that this experience “was allegorical to the beginnings of online newspapers”. A fair comparison, I would say. There weren’t a lot of cable households in 1969. From 1970 to 1972, he split his time between the cable giant of that time, Theta Cable, and the movie channel, simply known as the “Z Channel”. Finally in 1972, frustrated with the constant turnover of owners and management in the burgeoning cable T.V. business, he returned to teaching. From 1979 to 1982, in addition to his teaching duties he formed the student run radio station KCPB 91.1 FM (Conejo Public Broadcasts), it was later sold and is now run by the University of Southern California as KDSC.

Al Miller is an icon on the Moorpark Campus. His distinctive “Radio Voice” is legendary along with his great sense of humor. I, personally, have taken a couple of his classes, and would highly recommend him to anyone. You can check him out at www.ratemyprofessor.com. I am currently taking an independent studies class in screenwriting with Al as my mentor. It was during one of our meetings that I broached the subject of “Citizen Newspapers” and his feelings about the subject. This turned into a discussion of things of a broader nature, and that is what I shall report to you today. It’s not really an interview in the true sense of the word, rather a retelling of pieces of a conversation that took place between two people.

So, Mr. Miller, what do you think are the biggest changes in college journalism over these last years?

“That is a fairly simple answer, Steve. It would be the overall fusion of telephone, television and computers. What’s available today and what the future will bring down the road, is very exciting. Just as important has been the miniaturization and digitalization of the technology available. We are in a cycle that is actually returning to the old days. I mean by that, that we are getting back to a “one person show”, where the writer is the reporter, interviewer, cameraman and editor. For example, in 1976, I appeared before the Santa Barbara City Council, regarding some of the funding of KCPB. After the Council meeting, the Santa Barbara television station KEYT, channel 3, sent a reporter to interview me. All of a sudden this man came up to me, he had an extremely large video camera attached to his shoulder, a big coiled microphone wrapped around his head that dangled in front of his face, a huge battery belt around his waist and more stuff on his back. He would “roll” the camera, ask a question; then dip his head down so that the mike was close to my face. It was like some sort one man street band. This was very heavy bulky equipment and he had to operate it all. Today, with miniaturization and digitalization this is a simple and common feat. The digital newsroom of the future will be that “one man show”.

What are your thoughts about the future of print media?

“Well, for example, I have been watching the news on the proposed sale of the Los Angeles Times. As we discussed, The Times is in a horrible tailspin and the offers to buy have been less than stellar. Who knows what will happen there. It’s clear that ever since the Tribune Company bought the paper, it reduced it’s coverage of local news; a fact, I believe, that has turned off a lot of the loyal readers of the paper. It seems that the Tribune Company’s main interest was in advertising and turning a profit instead of operating a newspaper. Regardless, the future for home delivery of newspapers is dim. Ted Turner, a guy whose opinion I respect, was asked the other day whether he might be interested in buying the LA Times. His response was direct, “Newspapers are out dated, and I have no interest.” There is another factor to consider. It’s been noted by some that there is a whole generation that has just “tuned out” the news. They just aren’t interested in “news”, print or online.”

What is your opinion about Citizen Newspapers?

“I am a fan. They provide a wide spectrum of talent and supplement or complement the reporting of news. Citizen Newspapers tend to be on the cutting edge and subsequently, can influence main stream media reporting by alternative methods. I will use a perverse analogy for an example. As porno pulls main stream cinema in their direction, citizen journalism is pulling mainstream media in its direction. Citizen journalism has a direct connection that a traditional newspaper doesn’t allow. It provides a continuing connection, an involvement, with the source. One of the most rewarding parts of being a professional journalist is being able to interview a news maker and THEN being able to respond to his response, citizen journalism allows that possibility.”

Do you have any advice for potential citizen journalists?

“Yes, and that is to remember they are journalists, regardless of the medium. We need to respect the need for correct grammar, spelling, sentence structure, and most important of all, we need to write with informed clarity.

One last thing, you told me that your sixty some page thesis for your master degree, written in 1967, was titled, “What is the future of cable t.v.”…. Any chance of getting a peek at that?


“I’ll get you a copy.”

My thanks for you sitting here with me until 11:00 pm; it was a fun and imformative.

“Happy to have done it”

Al has another side to him, a great voice. You can hear it on his CD, “American Love”—“Al Miller’s American Love performances are a tribute to America’s most gifted composers an lyricists of 20th century popular songs…. Romantic, melodic tones of 30’s,40’s,50’s and 60’s America”.



About the Writer

Steven Lane is a writer for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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4 comments on The College Journalism Professor and Citizen Newspapers

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By Soulglo on January 25, 2007 at 04:27 pm
Interesting article!
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By mattjosh on January 25, 2007 at 04:34 pm
Very nice interview. It's nice to hear an old school perspective on such new happenings.
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By Josh Marks on January 25, 2007 at 06:33 pm
I really enjoyed the interview. Great job! Professor Miller certainly has alot of experience and alot of wisdom to share, especially in his analysis of citizen journalism and the future of print media. I think he is spot on. What better forum than BrooWaha to publish this piece as well.
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By Steven Lane on January 29, 2007 at 08:41 pm
I saw this today in the Ventura Star Free Press, I thought it was very interesting. January 29, 2007 CALIFORNIA Yahoo pulls discussion feature on news stories SUNNYVALE — Got an opinion? Keep it to yourself. Yahoo quietly pulled a discussion feature from its news site in recent weeks. Before, readers were allowed to post comments on individual news stories. The message boards were suspended, according to a note from Yahoo's general manager for news, Neil Budde, because they allowed "a small number of vocal users to dominate the discussion." Commenters on Yahoo message boards are not a mild mannered bunch — they can range from thoughtful and articulate to downright loony. Comments on any random Yahoo news story might have included bizarre rants about the war in Iraq or odd observations about Jon Stewart's hair. Yahoo says it is taking comments on news stories offline until it rolls out discussion forums based on news topics, which it hopes, will "foster a better discussion for all of our readers."
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