By Erin Roberts
Saying they have been amazed by the rapid pace at which new media is developing, R. Smith "Smitty" Schuneman and his wife, Patricia, have made a $495,000 gift to the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University to establish an annual conference that will explore the discipline's changing face.
"We are both graduates of Ohio University and wanted to make a gift that we could see realized," Smitty Schuneman said. "We wanted to bring in globally significant communication leaders to help these students understand and perform for this future they will help shape."
He earned a bachelor's degree in fine arts in 1958 and a master's in 1960, and Patricia Schuneman earned a bachelor's degree from the College of Education in 1959. Their gift commitment includes payments of $33,000 per year for the next 15 years to fund the Schuneman Symposium on Photojournalism and New Media. The inaugural event took place Thursday, April 9, on Ohio University's Athens campus.
E.W. Scripps School of Journalism Director Tom Hodson says the gift is "a tremendous asset" not only to the school but to the university community at large.
"The idea behind the gift is to enhance the educational experience by bringing in experts from around the country to discuss a different topic each year," Hodson said. "The gift and the symposium are a true benefit to the students and the university community because we will be able to bring in speakers that have a broad appeal to the community and not just the students and faculty of the Scripps School."
After attending Ohio University, Smitty Schuneman earned a doctorate degree and became a professor of photojournalism at the University of Minnesota. Later, he and his wife founded Media Loft Inc., a business theater and contract film and television production business.
He said he holds fond memories of his days on campus and remembers George Lasher as his first journalism professor. He also said he is particularly proud of the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, saying it has established and maintained excellence for many years.
"Ohio University has had a very fine journalism school since its beginning," he said. "While some journalism schools lost their way in the '60s, '70s and, really, in every decade, this school has never lost its way. We're proud of the graduates and their accomplishments in the national media."
Thursday's event explored the role of new media in the 2008 Presidential election. The symposium included keynote addresses by "Democracy Now" anchor Amy Goodman and Steve Hildebrand, President Obama's deputy national campaign manager, as well as three panels examining the changing landscape of politics and media.
Phil Elliott, a 2003 Ohio University graduate who covers the White House for the Associated Press, was one of the symposium's panelists. In a later interview, he said his courses at the E.W. Scripps School prepared him well for his chosen career.
"My time at Ohio University prepared me to go out, find a job and hit the ground running," Elliott said. "[I took some] great courses. I took advantage of some great faculty. I attached myself to a few of these folks.
"I get to go to work everyday at the White House and talk to some really smart, really powerful people," Elliott said. "And that just humbles you. ... That's enough to kick you in the shins to tell you, 'Yes, the days are long. Yes, stories are challenging. But what you're doing is an honor.'"
In addition to Elliot, other Ohio University alumni who participated in Thursday's panels included: Assistant Professor Cary Frith, who received a bachelor's in journalism in 1992 and a master's degree in 1998; Gary Moneysmith, who received a bachelor's degree in marketing in 1993; and Michael Dibari, who received a master's degree in photography in 2008.
The Schunemans were in attendance for Thursday's symposium and said they were "thrilled" with the event.
"We'd been thinking about making the gift for two years, and, because the media industry is changing so fast, we felt this was something we needed to do now," Patricia Schuneman said.
"We really just wanted to be a catalyst in students' futures," Smitty Schuneman echoed.
The couple now resides in Okoboji, Iowa, and has two sons, Tom and Bill, and two grandchildren. To see the full schedule and find links to audio podcasts of the event, visit http://scrippsjschool.org/symposium.php.
Updated April 15, 2009.