Professor Proffitt stresses creativity in journalism


Steve Proffitt, an adjunct professor of journalism, never intended to go into journalism.

Originally trained as a studio artist, the self-proclaimed “news junkie,” began his career by applying to make art for his local PBS station, KERA, in Texas.

“I fell into it,” Proffitt said. “I literally went to a public television station and they hired me as a producer and reporter — those were different times.”

Radio · Steve Proffitt, an adjunct professor of journalism, works as a producer and reporter for the Madeline Brand Show at the Pasadena National Public Radio affiliate. - Photo courtesy of Steve Proffitt

And though news isn’t traditionally a field for artists, Proffitt tells his students to strive for innovation — in identifying potential stories, thinking about who to speak to and who to interview, approaching interviews and presenting information.

“I try to stress the creative nature of journalism,” Proffitt said. “I approach it as a creative act and try to teach it as a creative activity.”

He said two things surprised him when he started teaching, the first one being that many of his students don’t always follow the news the way he does. Classes begin with a discussion of current events, something his students sometimes struggle with at the start.

“Sometimes it takes a few weeks for them to even understand what I’m looking for,” Proffitt said. “They may come in with things that they read in Gawker or some sort of entertainment site, but I want what’s going on in Syria and Sacramento.”

Part of this might come from his formative years consuming media.

“When I was in college, it was the Vietnam War, Watergate and the civil rights movement,” Proffitt said. “There were a lot of big things happening.”

The predominance of women in his classes also surprised him, as the number of women journalists continues to rise.

Before coming to USC, Proffitt had not taught journalism in an academic setting, but he said that teaching is a rewarding experience.

“It’s given me some optimism about the future because I meet and work with students who I think have a real future as journalists and who, even if they don’t become journalists, will do good and important things,” Proffitt said. “When you work in the news business, it’s pretty easy to become cynical and pessimistic.”

Though the print reporting classes he teaches focus on television, Proffitt said he prefers radio journalism.

[Correction: A previous version of this story said Proffitt taught broadcast classes. He teaches print reporting. The Daily Trojan regrets the error.]

“I like print and I like TV, but I’m a radio guy,” Proffitt said. “It’s the medium I’ve been working in the longest and I’m the most comfortable with and, ultimately, it’s the most intimate.”

Proffitt practices what he prefers, serving as a producer and reporter for the Madeleine Brand Show, an hourlong news show on KPCC.

“She’s [Madeleine] a great interviewer: smart, fun and funny,” Proffitt said. “From a professional standpoint, I’m just pretty much as happy as I’ve ever been.”

Each day before work, Proffitt wakes up at 4:30 a.m. and grabs a cup of coffee to sip through the major news of the day.

“Following stories is interesting. A ship crashes off the coast of Italy, or Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich are getting involved in a more and more acrimonious duel — every morning I want to find out what happens,” Proffitt said. “I can’t help it. It’s what I like and I love what I do.”