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Telling It Like It Is: J-School Prof David Hazinski on the Future of News

By:  Aliza Akhtar Maqbool Jun 30, 2014
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Student Journalist

David Hazinski's 'no excuses' teaching approach provides his journalism students with hands-on, real-world reporting experience.

The bomb exploded less than half a mile away from David Hazinski's training camp in Karachi, Pakistan. "The ceiling caved in... there were some electrical sparks as wires became disconnected and the room filled with smoke," he said. "We thought we'd been bombed."

He yelled out instructions, punctuated with profanities, to convey to his journalism trainees that they were in the middle of a story. "I literally started grabbing people and grabbing cameras and putting the two together and saying, 'Go out and start shooting it right now!'" said Hazinski, 65, who did not want to miss an opportunity to report news while teaching his students in a real-life scenario.

Hazinski, Jim Kennedy New Media Professor at the University of Georgia and owner of Intelligent Media Consultants (IMC), was in Karachi to help launch and train journalists for Pakistan's first private, 24/7 news channel when his crew felt the bomb explosion that targeted the U.S. consulate on June 14, 2002.

"He has helped start these news networks that have made such a massive impact around the world," said Faraz Ahmed, 25, a freelance broadcast consultant and regional Emmy Award winner in post-production, who has been Hazinski's mentee, student and employee.

Lori Webster, 44, is another former Hazinski student and a freelance international news consultant. She often works with him on IMC projects. "Our channels have given people a voice that never had a voice before," she said. IMC has helped launch channels in Iraq, Serbia and Austria. The 15-year-old company hires employees on a per-project basis for consulting, technology design, training and work flow services.

Changing the Media Landscape

At 6' 4",  Hazinski stands tall, and sets the bar for journalism ethics even higher. A Polish descendent from the small town of Nanticoke, Pa., Hazinski has helped change the media landscape in several countries, and has developed a new system for media bloggers and citizen journalists. He wants to bring it to fruition through a new women's channel he is working on (the channel will cater to women, have content for and provided by women and will be run by women working and reporting from all over the world). Anyone, or any woman in this case, who wants to contribute news to the channel would take journalism courses, verify her identity with the channel and follow a code of ethics. Contributors will be paid for their content.

David Hazinski UGA

Hazinski shows visitors around the UGA news control room. 

"But we will vet them anyway," said Hazinski about measures he will take to make sure the news the channel receives is accurate before it airs. A simple solution like this raises the question of why it hasn't been done before? Networks "don't want to pay people," Hazinski says through his thin, gold rimmed glasses. He wants to "change the game."

This new system for what Hazinski calls "cottage industry journalists" came from his skepticism. He received a lot of heat from independent bloggers and citizen journalists for his op-ed in the Atlanta Journal Constitution titled, Unfettered 'Citizen Journalism Too Risky.

"While it has its place, the reality is it really isn't journalism at all, and it opens up information flow to the strong probability of fraud and abuse. The news industry should find some way to monitor and regulate this new trend," wrote Hazinski.

He says he regrets using the word "regulate". "Every time, anybody uses regulation they think of government regulation, I don't have the slightest interest in the government regulating, old media, new media or any other media," said Hazinski. What he advocated in the article is a system that will vet citizen journalists so that the public can be sure that information coming from them is accurate. In the same article, Hazinski made an analogy to explain that just collecting and distributing information doesn't make someone a journalist, "This is like saying someone who carries a scalpel is a 'citizen surgeon' or someone who can read a law book is a 'citizen lawyer'," wrote Hazinski.

Hazinski's wariness of citizen journalism is rooted in his issues with the practices of mainstream media. Even though there are "commonly accepted ethical principles" for journalists "adhering to the principles is voluntary," wrote Hazinski, he says today's media standards are questionable, citing reporting using unnamed sources or unauthenticated facts.

'Selling his Soul to News'

Hazinski started his career in 1973 in local news networks in Charlotte and Pittsburgh, and in fewer than 10 years he became an international network correspondent at NBC. His reports appeared regularly on The Today Show, NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw and NBC Weekend News. Going into NBC he thought he'd have to "sell 20 percent of his soul," but by the time he left, he "had only seven percent in tact."

"We used to have this horrible expression at NBC, 'forging reality from a preconceived editorial notion'," said Hazinski. He said once he was asked to follow a story from The New York Times on the ban of the Sony Walkman in Woodbridge, N.J., circa 1982, because the city believed headphones distracted people and caused accidents. NBC asked Hazinski to interview those that were injured, those who were supporting the ban, as well as retailers who might be protesting the ban because of a decline in sales. "They had the story all figured out," said Hazinski.

But he couldn't find facts to corroborate any of the above. The real story was not what NBC wanted it to be. "If I was a different kind of correspondent, I could have gotten the answers they were looking for and had a story on that night. I have seen others do just that. But it’s wrong on both ends… finding the story the producers are looking for rather than what is actually there," said Hazinski. His producers blamed him for "not finding the right elements."

'No Excuses' Teaching Method

David Hazinski

David Hazinski

He eventually became tired of network politics and decided he "couldn't do it anymore." Now a Josiah Meigs Distinguished Teacher (UGA's highest teaching award), he makes "30 percent of what (he) made at NBC 25 years ago." But to him, it's worth it.

"He has high standards, and he has a way of inspiring his students to meet those standards," said Webster. She recalls that if she heard, "Yeah, that worked" and nothing else from Hazinski, she knew she had produced excellent work.

Ahmed says Hazinski turns "kids into adults" in his classroom by making them as accountable as his employees. As a co-host and technology advisor for World Business Review with Caspar Weinberg in the 1990s, an internationally syndicated show seen in 27 countries, and recipient of Golden Quill Award for his journalistic work, Hazinski doesn't accept excuses or half-baked work.

"The thing is, he has so many stories," Ahmed says. "Every time he calls you out on something and you try to go back at him, he tells you a great story about why it doesn't work in the real world because he's already tried to pull it."

What Hazinski practices is tough love. "His bark is sharper than his bite," said former student Priya Abraham, producer for the morning show at WTOC in Savannah, Ga. She thinks of Hazinski as "the dad you never had" and remembers him always having chocolates in his office for his students. Hazinski, who has been married to Dr. Linda Hazinski for 40 years, doesn't have children of his own, but when he speaks of his students it reminds one of how a proud father speaks of his children's accomplishments -- rarely to their face but to everyone else.

"Universally (students) respect him and to some extent they fear him," Webster says. "More than anything, they fear disappointing him."

Hazinski is the Jay Pritchett of journalism's Modern Family; a father figure with a grey, receding hairline, a large personality and aloud opinions. He describes himself as "arrogant" and "not nice," but his actions speak otherwise. He holds the car door open for his passengers, answers phone calls with a "Dober Dan!" or "Assalamalikum!", depending on the caller's ethnicity, and thoughtfully refills half-empty water glasses for his lunch companions.

The Future of Journalism 

Between bites of his favorite meatball breadsticks and pesto-stuffed mushrooms at DePalma's Italian Cafe in Athens, Ga., Hazinski explained why he became a journalist. He was stationed as a U.S. Navy radioman in Vietnam and became disillusioned by the war. "I couldn't tell what the reality was, I couldn't tell what the facts were," said Hazinski. He realized that all the ideas he had in his head were up for questioning. The war directly led to his decision in choosing journalism as a career.

Wearing a black polo shirt and jeans, Hazinski expressed his concern over the future of journalism. He said that there is a "dichotomy" in the U.S. between what information should be presented to the public so that they can make an informed decision, and what they are more likely to watch so that "we can sell them something." In trying to do the later, journalists are "increasingly neglecting" what they should be doing — presenting facts.

"Jon Stewart is, in fact, doing much of the work that mainline media should be doing now, (that) is questioning the fundamentals of stuff, checking facts, making sure things are right," he adds.

Hazinski makes a sharp distinction between truth and facts and says that they cannot be interchanged because to him, "truth is literally in the eyes of the beholder." Sipping a glass of red wine, Hazinski makes a pragmatic point.

"I don't believe in finding the truth, and I don't think that's what journalism does---philosophers mullahs rabbis, ethics boards judges, they find the truth," he concludes. "We find facts and present them to people."

About the Author


Aliza

Aliza Akhtar Maqbool is studying for her Masters in Journalism at the Harvard Extension School. She received her BA from Bennington College with a year abroad at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Ms. Maqbool worked at the New York City Bar Association before taking up a career in Pakistan as a host for various TV shows. Originally from Pakistan, Ms. Maqbool now lives in Atlanta with her husband, Khurram, and her two-year-old son, Ashaz. She enjoys traveling and trying new foods (both eating and cooking). Her interests range from human rights to home decor and she writes on related issues on her blog www.wisevibes.org. She can be contacted at aliza.akhtar@gmail.com.