Meet your IPC: Seth Ashley, Assistant Professor, Department of Communications, Boise State University

Interviewed by Todd Dvorak

sethInterviewer’s Intro: Granted I’m speaking for the entire Southwest Chapter Board here, but I think it’s safe to say we were just minutes into our most recent planning meeting when we all wondered the same thing: Why did we wait so long to bring Seth Ashley into the fold?

Seth is the newest member of the Southwest Chapter Board and we’re pleased to have him. I’m confident he’ll bring a fresh perspective, one that’s essential to journalism in Idaho and abroad but one that too often gets lost among those of us buried in the trenches of deadlines, breaking news and blogging. As an academic at the forefront of educating the next generation of print, radio and broadcast reporters, Seth thinks about and sees our craft in a different light, from the theoretical side.

It’s this perspective that makes Seth’s presence on the board valuable as we explore new ways and programming for IPC members across the state and region. Now, here’s your chance to learn a little more about Seth:

Press Club position: Board Member for the Southwest Chapter. Newly appointed.

Why did you agree to take on the board position? Because journalists are more fun than academics? I like to practice what I preach and participate in the community. I think research and theory in journalism and communication can inform journalistic practice and vice versa. I would like to see greater collaboration between scholars and practitioners in general.

Education/Career Path: I grew up near St. Louis and went to the University of Southern California to study production design for film and theater. I also dabbled in news writing and communication law, which led me to pursue a master’s degree at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. I worked as a staff writer for the Columbia Daily Tribune and as a freelance writer, editor, photographer and video producer, as a camera operator and graphics designer for NBC affiliate KOMU-TV and as a projectionist for the True-False Film Festival; and taught print and digital journalism at Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri. I spent six years writing, teaching and exploring before going back to Mizzou for my PhD in journalism. I graduated in 2011 and came to Boise State.

Family: My wife and I got married this past summer at Bogus Basin. It was a destination wedding for our far-flung friends and family. Getting married here was the best way to get them to visit us.

Pets: Brodie, a three-legged lab mix, who acts like a puppy even though he’s pushing 12. Also some fish that came with the house we bought this summer. Anyone know how to take care of a koi pond?

Something people may not know about you? I traveled in a fancy tour bus to 12 countries and 50 cities as a production manager (i.e., glorified roadie) for the rock band Grandaddy.

Surprising skill? I play piano, guitar, bass, drums and a little accordion. I’ve played and toured with bands since high school, but still haven’t found the right one in Boise. Turns out being an assistant professor is a lot of work.

Favorite place: I have a hard time getting enough of Boise’s fantastic foothills. I often have to remind myself that I’m not on vacation here and I have to go to work. Also, the fjords of Norway were pretty spectacular this summer.

Hobbies: Running, biking, skiing, playing music, home maintenance.

How did you get into journalism and from there into the academic side of things? I took my first news writing class from a staff writer from the L.A. Times and that was enough to send me to grad school at Mizzou. I intended to become a newspaper man, but my excellent professors (Stephanie Craft, Charles Davis, Don Ranly) drew me toward the academic side. I was intrigued by the frequent disconnect between the theoretical role of journalism in sustaining the democratic life and the practice. I began to study the institutional and structural constraints that sometimes get in the way.

What was it about Boise State and its journalism/communications program that appealed to you? I saw a lot of great opportunity here. Our independent Student Media organization is a fantastic resource and training lab for students, and our degree programs are flexible enough to give students a lot of freedom to pursue their own interests. At the same time, we have a chance to shape our curriculum to adapt to an ever-changing media environment and help students prepare for the uncertain future by offering a blend of theory and practice. We obviously have to teach students to use the technology, but the tools will continue to change, so it’s even more important to teach critical thinking and problem solving.

What do you like best about working with college students? I think it’s wonderful to be able to show them what’s possible, then watch them go. I help them see what they are capable of, and they take it from there. This is especially true at Student Media, where they get to produce a real, live media product every day. We also get the luxury of sitting back and reflecting on the process to see where we can improve.

What do you see as the one or two main issues, challenges, questions facing journalists today? How to get actionable information in the hands of people who need it in order to sustain democratic life and promote social justice. Concentrations of power are making that more difficult than ever. The internet was supposed to set us free, but is not living up to its potential. We are at a critical juncture as we grapple with potential policy solutions for problems in journalism and digital technology. The decisions we make in the next few years are likely to set us on a path for the next century.