Spring Pollner Professor Deborah Potter Teaches Students About Journalism and Trust

Spring 2018 Pollner professor Deborah Potter. Photo by Tate Samata.

Deborah Potter is sure of one thing: Public trust in journalism is disintegrating rapidly, and journalists cannot simply sit back and wait for something to change.

“There’s a quote by journalist Carl Bernstein that says something similar to: ‘All we have to do is our best work.’ I disagree,” said Potter, the 2018 spring T. Anthony Pollner Distinguished Professor. “In the world we’re currently living in, it’s not enough to simply put your head down and do good work as a journalist. We have to be deliberate, proactive. We have to do more to share a message that we deserve trust.”

Potter aims to confront this topic in her spring course “Journalism & Public Trust.” Students will explore the “fake news” phenomenon and the news media’s place in a democratic society. They will also investigate newsroom strategies and learn fact-checking techniques.  Potter hopes all of this will help students explore answers to a fundamental question: “How do we maintain trust, and frankly, regain public trust?”

Potter had wanted to be a writer since high school. But as she watched a contentious national presidential election unfold during her first year of college at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Potter was drawn to broadcast and TV journalism.

When she isn’t teaching, odds are you can find her downhill skiing. Here, Potter is at Lookout Pass with professor Denise Dowling after their first week of spring semester.

“Watching stories happen in real-time gave a completely different sense of a story than reading it in print,” Potter said. “I was drawn to the fluidity.”

Potter spent more than a decade as American Journalism Review’s broadcast news columnist, served as CBS’s White House, State Department and Congressional Correspondent for 13 years, and reported on environmental issues and national politics as a network correspondent for CNN. She has led journalism workshops in the U.S. and around the world, co-authored a journalism textbook, and founded NewsLab, a non-profit journalism resource center in 1998.

Potter sees her professorship at UM as an opportunity to  continue what she refers to as “the second major chunk” of her journalism career, in which she focuses on providing journalism-related education. Previously, Potter was a distinguished visiting professor in journalism ethics at the University of Arkansas, and curated radio and TV seminars as a faculty associate at the Poynter Institute.

The Pollner Professorship was established to honor the memory of Anthony Pollner, a 1999 graduate of the School of Journalism. After Anthony died in an accident in May 2001, his friends and family created an endowment that makes this professorship possible. 

Tate Samata is finishing her fifth and final year at the UM School of Journalism, and will graduate this spring with a Bachelor of Arts in journalism and psychology minor. Tate’s journalistic focus is primarily photo and multimedia, but she is also passionate about writing, copy editing and social media. 

 

New Semester Brings New Pollner Professor and New Course on Public Trust and ‘Fake News’

Spring semester brings a new face to the halls of the J-School and a new course on a timely topic: journalism and the public trust.

Deborah Potter will be this semester’s T. Anthony Pollner Distinguished Professor and her course  will explore why trust in the news media is essential in a democratic society, why trust has declined so precipitously, and what can be done to restore it.

A veteran journalist and newsroom trainer, Deborah has been a television network correspondent for CBS News, CNN and PBS. She also founded and ran the online journalism resource NewsLab for 20 years. Deborah has led workshops for journalists in the United States and around the world, from South Africa to Nepal. In 2014, Deborah was a distinguished visiting professor in journalism ethics at the University of Arkansas. She’s co-author of “Advancing the Story,” a digital and broadcast journalism textbook, now in its third edition.

Students in Potter’s course will examine the “fake news” phenomenon, learn techniques for fact-checking, and investigate what strategies newsrooms are using to retain or earn back the trust of their audience. Seminar participants will interview working journalists and produce a comprehensive report for online publication.

“Journalism & Public Trust,” or JRNL 494, runs Mondays and Wednesdays 11:00-12:20 in DAH 210. Students interested in enrolling in the course must be admitted to the school’s professional program and have the consent of Professor Dennis Swibold, dennis.swibold@mso.umt.edu.

The Pollner Professorship was established to honor the memory of Anthony Pollner, a 1999 graduate of the School of Journalism. After Anthony died in an accident in May 2001, his friends and family created an endowment that makes this professorship possible. In 2014, friends and family expanded the endowment to allow a distinguished professorship in both fall and spring semesters. Read more about Anthony and the professorship here.

Meet the Professors: Denise Dowling

We are constantly hearing from students that one of the J-School’s biggest strengths is the dedicated, talented, fearless, experienced, fun, doors-are-always-open faculty.

The Social Media and Engagement class set out to tell that story via Instagram. Over the coming weeks, we will highlight these stories, which illustrate the personalities, philosophies and experience of our top-notch faculty. This week, we give you the second in the series, Associate Professor Denise Dowling.

Denise, a graduate of our very own J-School, teaches intermediate audio, advanced audio, intermediate video reporting, advanced video reporting and ethics and trends in news media. Denise wanted to be a journalist because she, “wants to know everything about everybody!”


Denise came to the school after 20 years in the TV news, first at KPAX-TV while an undergrad at UM.  She moved on to stations in Montana, Colorado and Washington, working as a director, technical director, producer, executive producer and managing editor.

She spent 17 years working in Spokane, working at both the ABC and NBC affiliates. She won a number of Emmy Awards and Edward R. Murrow awards as part of teams that covered a firestorm, flooding, an ice storm and the arrest of a serial killer.

 

Other profiles in the #meettheprofs series: 

Jule Banville

Kevin Tompkins