Media matters Distinguished professor produces successful grads

Is it 1989 or 2010?

It’s late afternoon, and Dr. Philip Patterson has just presented a new chapter of his Media Ethics textbook to a roomful of OC juniors and seniors.

Some of the students are aspiring journalists and public relations practitioners. Some are future digital media gurus and entrepreneurs.

Through class discussion, they will test drive this new chapter that digs into the weighty issues surrounding the hows and whys of news gathering and reporting.

Now or then? It could have been either time. One of the only differences is today’s students have laptops, iPhones and Starbucks cups, and the students two decades ago had three-ring binders and cans of Dr. Pepper, and had to schedule time at the computer lab to write papers. 

Dr. Patterson, distinguished professor of mass communication at Oklahoma Christian has been there to see it all.

Many of his students recently gathered to honor him with the Oklahoma Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists 2009 Teacher of the Year award.

Christy (Robinson 96) Watson had the honor of presenting the award at the SPJ event in February. She said that Dr. Patterson’s role as teacher and professors lasts long after graduation.

“What I remember was his coursework required us to think outside our comfort zones and question what we thought we knew,” said Watson, who is an editorial writer for The Oklahoman. “We’ve learned from him that we have an obligation to share what we’ve learned with others.”

Dr. Patterson published the first edition of his popular media ethics textbook more than 20 years ago.

It’s now on its sixth edition and is used at half of the Big 12 schools along with Notre Dame, UCLA and others. It has been translated into three languages.

Patterson also has authored a number of other publications, including devotional books.

Those early editions of the ethics book, however, do not mention social media, bloggers or Youtube, like his textbook does now. Therein lies an issue that Patterson watches keenly – a changing media industry that employs his beloved alumni.

Murray Evans (89) works for the Associated Press and covers everything from sports to elections to crime for the international wire service.

“It is a tough time in the media industry right now. Dozens of large media outlets have let people go and a few large newspapers have shut down,” said Evans, who is based for AP in the Oklahoma City area. “I’ve had lots of friends lose their jobs in this new media world. Everyone is still trying to kind of find their way. The biggest thing for newspapers, especially, is trying to find a way to monetize their product on the Internet.”

Still, Patterson believes there is a future for all of his students in the media industry.

He says the media will improve when the economy improves, but advises that the public needs to be more discerning about our news sources and whether what we listen to, read and watch is dictated by advertisers and profits or is legitimate news.

Discerning sources and information remains part of the core of what today’s students learn, in addition to learning how to tell a good story.

Those methods get a nod, although peppered with some reality, from journalist Steve Lackmeyer (90), who recently published his second book, Skirvin, which is about the history of a famed downtown Oklahoma City hotel.

“Philip Patterson’s ability to provoke, inspire and demand good journalism is unrivaled by anyone I’ve ever worked with,” Lackmeyer said. “He taught us to tell stories, to be the readers’ advocate, and most importantly, to get the story and to remember to have fun.”

Bobby Ross, Jr. (93), former Associated Press reporter and now the editor of The Christian Chronicle, has spent 20 years in the industry. He calls Dr. Patterson a mentor and friend.

“Dr. Patterson has played a leading role in teaching and mentoring a number of successful journalists over the last 30 years. I am one of the many OC graduates thankful for his important, positive influence in my life,” Ross said.

While they’re entrenched in the rigors of coursework, the students in the ethics classes of today might not quite realize it yet, but the “Patterson Principle” applies to them as well.

“They are my students for four years.” Patterson said. “They are my alums for life.”

By Dawn Shelton