Your Legs Grow

It’s not very rock n’ roll, I suppose, to want to be a college professor. But it’s on my short list of things to do, right there next to South By Southwest, the cover of Rolling Stone, the Nantucket Film Festival, and The New York Times Best Seller List. Oh, and Mt. Everest.

I took steps towards at least two of those goals yesterday. I sent in my SXSW application as part of a potential Authentic Records Showcase (which would include The Nadas, Towncrier, Josh Davis, and me). And I wrote the dean of Syracuse’s journalism school.

From: Wagner, Benjamin
Sent: Thu 11/10/2005 4:39 PM
To: David Rubin
Subject: Re: Benjamin Wagner ’93

Dear Dean Rubin:

I have seen extraordinary change in my ten years at MTV News. I launched MTV’s Daily News web site in 1996, and proselytized on behalf of the emerging medium throughout the Nineties. In the early 00’s, I have seen my vision of the digital newsroom and on-demand content model come to fruition. This year, as Executive Producer of MTV News Digital, I played a key role in the launch of the broadband industry’s current standard-bearer, MTV Overdrive. Best of all, I’ve had a blast doing it.

In the past five years, I have volunteered as a resource for Newhouse students through the Career Center. It has been my pleasure to speak with students and help them set career goals, and find their way towards those goals.
To that end (and because my contribution to Newhouse IV is a few years away), I’m offering you my time as a visiting lecturer. As a 34-year-old media executive at a fast-moving, early-adopting, wildly-popular network, I can connect with students and get them excited in a pragmatic, hands-on, do-it-yourself way.

Most of all, I’d love to give back just a bit of the inspiration that I received from my professors (including yourself).

Benjamin Wagner
Executive Producer
MTV News Digital

He wrote back this morning.

From: David Rubin
Sent: Friday, November 11, 2005 9:53 AM
To: Wagner, Benjamin
Cc: Dona Hayes, Karen McGee
Subject: Re: Benjamin Wagner ’93

Dear Ben:

I very much appreciate your offer to visit and talk to our students, and I am also happy to hear about your professional success. Your career is the reason we are in business.

I have copied Dona Hayes, the chair of the BJ department, and Karen McGee, who heads the CDC, with your e-mail and your offer to visit and talk to students. I am sure they will get in touch with you to arrange something that fits everyone’s schedule.

I hope to see you on campus in the spring.


I was a dual major in college: creative writing and journalism. The Newshouse School was right across the street from the College of Arts & Sciences. Their respective curriculum was different in every way. At Newhouse, specific words mean specific things. A car “crash” was distinct from a car “accident.” Across the street, language was “slippery,” and the author revealed himself in every word choice. Newhouse was a vocation. Arts & Sciences was a way of thinking.

I was far more into my English classes and creative writing seminars than I was any of my journalism courses. But I always knew that I would travel farther — career wise, anyway — on the journalism degree. And I have.

That said, and the above email notwithstanding, I don’t want to return to my alma mater solely to hype the digital revolution, or my role in it. I just want to get students excited. I wasn’t excited in college, I was scared. I was scared that The Real World (not to be confused with “The Real World”) held no promise for me. Worse, I was scared that I held no promise for it. I lacked the confidence, or the imagination (perhaps) that I had anything to offer.

While the verdict is out on that very question, I’ve endured enough of The Real World to know that there’s a place here for everyone. You just gotta find it. Or make it.

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