See Me After Class -Special Professor to Professor Edition

Media Studies Professor Mark Brewin interviews Assistant Professor Thomas Conner
In this week’s edition of “See Me After Class,” Department Chairperson of Media Studies Mark Brewin, with the students in his Intro to Media Studies class, had the chance to interview Dr. Thomas Conner, the visiting assistant professor of Media Studies. Conner hails from Oklahoma City where he lives with his husband and dog. Over his long journalism and academic career, Conner has worked for The Tulsa World and The Chicago Sun-Times and served as an adjunct professor in both cities. The following is a summary of the full interview that took place on Sept. 8.

Brewin: Where are you from?
Conner: I was born and raised in Oklahoma City. I did most of my undergraduate at the University of Oklahoma. But my freshman year was at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee.
I knew from very early on that I wanted to be a journalist. So growing up in this particular area everybody was telling me, “Go to the University of Missouri, that’s the best journalism school.” The hugeness of that school didn’t appeal to me, and for some reason, I decided I wanted the liberal arts experience (As long as there was a kernel of media education to it). So I chose Rhodes because they were apparently a great liberal arts school with a media track. I’m there for a week and they announce they’re killing the media track! I got back to Oklahoma City that summer and realized I needed to get a focused media education. So I transferred to OU — reluctantly at first because I didn’t want to go to a giant university. But I was glad in the end because I got a good education out of it.

Brewin: You mentioned you always wanted to be a journalist. What was it about being a journalist that appealed to you so much?
Conner: My dad was a lawyer and always wanted me to follow in his footsteps. I wasn’t as interested in becoming a lawyer — half because of the subject matter and half because I didn’t want to do what my dad did. But my dad was always forthright about one of the reasons he loved law was because of the words and the language. My first real newspaper job was at The Tulsa World newspaper for 12 years. I worked my way up from the bottom, starting as a community reporter, then a copy editor and some other jobs, but I quickly set my sights on the Arts & Entertainment Editor. So when the pop music critic left, there I was for the next seven or eight years.

Brewin: You did a show on local radio called “Warped Vinyl,” is that correct? If so, what was that show about?
Conner: Oh yeah, right here at TU! I wouldn’t call it a show, John Wooley and I took turns for three to four minutes when they needed extra time to fill. It was us picking a weird record from our collection and giving a spiel about it for a few minutes.

Brewin: Now you actually taught at TU before, when you were writing for The [Tulsa] World.
Conner: Yeah, really soon after I started writing for the World, I started teaching as an adjunct. First for Tulsa Community College teaching Honors English for five years, then came to TU around 2000 to 2005 when they still had a Communications department
Brewin: Then from Tulsa, you moved to Chicago to work on The Sun-Times
Conner: Yes, I was an editor here in Tulsa, then moved to become an editor at The Chicago Sun-Times for several years. Once the Pop Music Editor there left to teach, I stepped into his role for four years.

Brewin: I know we have a number of people in the room who are interested in Journalism. Do you have any advice for aspiring journalists?
Conner: I don’t know how to respond to the how-to-get-a-job question anymore. The way I went about it over 30 years ago is totally different from what you probably need to do today. There used to be entry level jobs, like writing obituaries, wedding and engagement announcements or working as a copy editor. In my day, you had to have been published in a newspaper before and clip it on your resume to show at your job interview. Unfortunately nowadays, a lot of copy desks are now dissolved and outsourced. But nowadays you could start a blog on your phone, or write for different publishing platforms. The advantage that you [students] have today that I didn’t have, is that you have so many ways at your disposal for displaying and publishing what you can do.

Brewin: What would you say is your most memorable interview? Do you remember if there’s one in particular that stands out?
Connor: Ugh, that’s like asking what my favorite record is! One that comes to mind is Andy Patridge, a hard-to-get-to singer for a band called XTC that I was a super huge fanboy of as a pop music critic. I had a wonderful conversation on the phone with him for 30 minutes that still resonates with me today.

Brewin: Why did you make the switch from journalism to academia?
Conner: I taught on the side for a long time, I was an adjunct here and in Chicago. When I moved to Sun-Times in 2005, American journalism was still relatively healthy. After being there for several years, layoffs were starting to happen as the industry was beginning to suffer, a very stressful time for me. I figured I was going to get laid off eventually, so I decided I might as well exit on my own terms, which I did. I then got a masters in Communications which I hoped would get me some teaching opportunity — and it luckily did.

Brewin: I have lots more to ask you, but we’re out of time. But I do want you to tell us what classes you’ll be teaching next spring, for students who might be thinking about taking your class?
Conner: I’m teaching Media and Popular Culture (Writer’s Note: A class I’m currently taking and highly recommend), Media History, and a History of Arts Criticism Class, where we discuss the history behind why we would write about art, get it published and what it does for society.

Post Author: Michael Tran