In a month from now, I’ll be leaving Arizona State University to embark on a new (for me, anyway) phase of life — first, retirement from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, where I’ve been a member of the faculty for the past 16 years; and second, a renewed focus on civic duty.

I’ll still be plenty busy. More on that below, and in upcoming posts.

ASU has been incredibly good to me. The Cronkite School’s founding dean, Chris Callahan, hired me in 2008. He persuaded me that he and ASU’s president, Michael Crow, intended to turn the school into the finest institution of its kind. I believe it did become that. I was fortunate to be there as it happened, and am grateful to have worked with such outstanding people: practitioners, scholars, and staff — and, not least, the inspiring students.

For the past decade or so my Cronkite focus has been on media literacy. In 2017, colleague Eric Newton and I co-founded something called the News Co/Lab. We then had the immense good fortune to put the project in the hands of Kristy Roschke, who has a PhD in media literacy and is one of the most effective people I’ve ever seen in getting stuff done. Kristy spearheaded the creation of bachelors degree in Digital Media Literacy, and her many other contributions to the Cronkite School — and the vital cause of media literacy — are extraordinary.

When Chris Callahan — now the president of the University of the Pacific — first approached me about coming to ASU, I asked some friends who were familiar with higher education what they knew about the place. One of them said that the university had a president whose goal was to blow up higher education and remake it for the 21st Century. That sounded useful!

ASU used to be considered a “party school” — but today it’s a powerhouse. Crow and his colleagues deserve enormous credit for fostering that emergence. But I think their greatest achievement lives in the way they defined university’s core principles. Here’s ASU’s mission statement:

ASU is a comprehensive public research university, measured not by whom it excludes, but by whom it includes and how they succeed; advancing research and discovery of public value; and assuming fundamental responsibility for the economic, social, cultural and overall health of the communities it serves.

Please read that carefully, if you haven’t seen it before. I believe the words “…not by whom it excludes, but by whom it includes…” go to the heart of what state universities, in particular, should be but far too often are not. ASU walks the talk, and the state of Arizona will be far, far better for it as time goes on — if state and national politics permit.

There’s a very real possibility that right-wing extremists and grifters will be in charge of the federal government after this year’s elections. One of their goals is to destroy public education as we know it. Trump and his acolytes — now in control of one of America’s two major political parties and many state governments — threaten far more than public education, of course. They’re aiming to bring down democracy itself.

Which brings me to what’s next on my personal agenda. Here’s my new mission statement, if you will:

I want to help people who are working to save democracy, and by extension freedom of expression, in part by helping journalism perform its most essential role.

I am absolutely convinced that journalism’s most essential role at this critical moment goes far, far beyond what it’s doing. The status quo in political (and related) coverage consists of sporadically noting that gosh-maybe-there’s-a-problem, while sticking mostly to journalistic business as usual. The status quo is journalistic malpractice.

It would be unfair not to note that at least a few journalists are meeting the challenge (and I highlight them whenever possible). But we have to see things clearly: Most media outlets are not coming close.

And even the best work, with exceedingly few exceptions, mostly falls short of a journalistic role — albeit a discomfiting one — that feels increasingly necessary: as outright activists in defense of democracy. (I believe journalism schools should also adopt this role as part of their own missions.)

Democracy needs more than journalists to survive, and it might fall even if they do become activists in its defense. But they should understand what their role will be if it does fall: They’ll either be collaborators with dictators, or members of the resistance.

What does my new mission statement mean in practice? I have a lot of ideas, and several specific plans. I’ll be describing them in more detail in upcoming posts here and elsewhere. Meanwhile, I’m having lots of conversations with people who understand the dangerous situation we face.

I never envisioned my “retirement” going this way. Nor, however, did I imagine that I would stop working at things I care about; binge-watching and binge-reading in a recliner was never the plan, either. In the end, we do what we can, when we must, and hope it makes a difference.

54 thoughts on “What’s next for me…

  1. Dan, I wish you all the best in your new endeavor. I just hope there’s time left for you to make an impact.

  2. Glad to see you are still fighting the good and necessary fight. Thank you, on behalf of all citizens. I look forward to seeing what you do, and perhaps finding a way to contribute.

  3. Good luck Dan, really. It’ll be interesting to see how it works out for you.

    Further affiant sayeth naught.

  4. This warms my heart a bit from the chill, which has set in with increasing tempo in recent years. Can’t say that I’m “glad” that you’ve taken this turn in your retirement but glad to see that a voice like yours is shoulder to the wheel right now. It’s kind of like meeting an amazing doctor in an Emergency Room. You’re super glad they’re there. Not glad for the reason you need to see them, but grateful they are doing what they do.

  5. Good luck uncle Dan!! And thank you for fighting the good fight. We need everyone and all hands on deck.

  6. I have loved being able to be on the periphery of your journey. And of course it’s been an absolute pleasure getting to work with you and Kristy, who is a worthy successor. Many congratulations to you, Dan!

  7. Wow, I am deeply moved by your bold decision and determination. I am sure your new work will serve not only to the immediate communities you live with but to much wider ones across the globe.
    Let’s walk together!!

  8. Congratulations on your retirement, Dan! I respected the clarity of your values and principles as a grad student in 2010 and deeply admire your decision to focus your passion and sense of purpose now on the cause of democracy. So inspiring.

  9. Dan – I have been so happy to have known you in a number of your roles, starting with the San Jose Mercury News, where you were one of the few technology reporters who could see through corporate and VC BS to the core of what personal computing was about, at least to me and other graduates of the ’60’s Movement. (E.g. Lee Felsenstein).

    This sounds great! To me “retirement” is the state where you don’t have to “take direction” and can explore your passions.
    You will do that, because that’s who you are.

    We live in a time where an emerging Fascism is very reminiscent of the 1930’s. And the signs of impending War are there as well. This means that democracy has been distorted into a mere fiction that needs a literacy that I don’t think is possible to achieve through a government indoctrination system. ASU, as a public “university” has apparently escaped becoming a training facility for party members. But the pressure is there.

    Journalism isn’t “a job with a media monolith”. You know that. If I can help (probably not) to create the kind of journalism that helped Tom Paine, Jefferson, Madison, and the other Revolutionaries create a new beginning for a new democratic republic, let me know.

    I suggest you might enjoy reading Hannah Arendt’s book On Revolution. If you read it, you’ll see why I say that. It might help you formulate an approach.

  10. Dan, excellent mission statement for non-retirement! I look forward to seeing how you live and create into it. The Society of Environmental Journalists annual conference will be at ASU a year from now. I hope you will provide input on what the university wants to say to the @1000 or so people who participate in the conference. See you there, I hope.

    • Thanks, Emilia — One thing Arizona (where I don’t live) offers to environmental journalists is the reality that climate change is likely to make Phoenix essentially uninhabitable at some point…

  11. I am not a US citizen but have known of your work since 96-97 when you were reporting for a West Coast publication (forgot the name) and I remember that back then I highlighted your voice as an essential one—for the then budding creative tech industry.

    I have also registered for a course you created and am looking forward taking. The world is sinking under the siege of corporate greed of a few meta behemoths dictating how the economy should behave in their never satisfied favour and the silencing of dissenting voices all over the world.

    Cheering you on. Do it Dan. You have an enormous perspective to tap into and loyal supporters. Can’t wait to see / read.

  12. It was a pleasure to work with you at Cronkite. Although once Chris left I never went back, I do believe in the dream of Michael Crow and how he has built ASU. More important, I am working with political activists in the community to register young people and protect the dream of democracy. I am an optimist, and I have hope. But that doesn’t mean I want to leave anything to chance. Or others. If I can help you, let me know.

  13. Hi Dan
    Wish you lots of success ahead!
    I lead the Civic Media Observatory, a project that brings together local journalism and research to understand different information ecosystems. I’d love to chat if you think our work has some overlap.

  14. Hi Dan,

    I can’t wait to hear more about your next project; it sounds exciting and is critical work. Please keep me in the loop in case there’s some way I can contribute.

    All the best,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *