New course examines relationship between Paterno, media

March 20, 2008

University Park, Pa. -- From his first appearance in The New York Times as a Brown football recruit in 1946 to today's 436,000 Google mentions of him that appear in .09 seconds, Joe Paterno has been a focus of the American sports media for more than six decades. In some ways, he has been a barometer of the growth and changes in sports journalism as well.

That history and the always-shifting, multilayered relationship between Paterno and the media constitue the centerpiece subjects of a new course in the College of Communications at Penn State. The course will debut during the fall semester and be called "COMM 497G: Joe Paterno, Communications and The Media."

The course will examine the communications goals, methods and avenues employed by both Paterno and the media since that initial New York Times story 62 years ago.

"Paterno is a benchmark for the shifts and trends in sports journalism and communications that have taken place over the past half-century. He has been an innovator in several areas," said senior lecturer Mike Poorman, the couse's creator and instructor.

"Joe's unique style and relationship with the media -- both good and bad -- provide the opportunity to examine the way a savvy national sports figure communicates with, through and around the media. But make no mistake, this course won't be hagiography delivered by a sycophant to a classroom of acolytes. This will be an honest assessment."

"JoePa, Comm and Media" will be limited to upperclassmen in the College of Communications, with prerequisites in selected skill courses required for course admission. Because of Paterno's history with a variety of media, the college has placed special emphasis on including students in all five of the college's majors: journalism, advertising/public relations, film-video, media studies and telecommunications. Students will be required to produce a semester-long communications project related to Paterno created in the students' area of speciality.

"As soon as Mike told me about his plans for the course, I knew instantly that it would be a perfectly natural, appropriate and exciting addition to the college's curriculum," said Doug Anderson, dean of the College of Communications. "Mike's idea to create the course was great. Best of all, though, he has done a terrific job developing the course from multiple academically substantive angles."

In the course, students will examine the growth and use of reporting styles, messages, delivery mechanisms and audiences of various media as they directly relate to Paterno during his 59 years at Penn State, the last 43 as head coach. Topics will include press conferences, personal interviews, off-the-record sessions, access, speeches, syndication, new media, staff and players, and non-football issues.

"We'll also examine Joe's communication skills and success away from the playing field," said Poorman, "such as his 1973 commencement address, his appearance on the Charlie Rose show, his support of George H.W. Bush and, for many years, his unofficial role as the spokesman for college football."

Guest lecturers from the fields of public relations, radio and television, rhetoric, social sciences, book publishing, newspapers, magazines, subscription Web sites, blogs and Penn State athletics will address the class, which will meet twice weekly for 75 minutes in the Carnegie Cinema (113 Carnegie Building) on the University Park campus.

The College of Communications, the largest accredited program of its kind in the country, houses the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism. Created in 2003, the Curley Center explores issues and trends in sports journalism through instruction, programming and research. In addition, the Center stresses the value of interaction, from on-campus guest lectures to off-campus internships. As an extension of its required course work, the Center provides hands-on opportunities for students to meet and work with respected sports journalists and well-known athletes.

Poorman, a 1982 graduate of Penn State with a degree in journalism, has covered Paterno and Penn State football since 1979 for six newspapers, including the student-run Daily Collegian and the Centre Daily Times in State College; magazines, including the Penn State Football Annual, which he co-founded in 1984; a Penn State all-sports tabloid; and the Associated Press. He has taught the college's signature sportswriting course since the Curley Center’s inception. He also serves as director of alumni relations for the college.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated March 19, 2009