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Medill Magazine Issue 93

Medill Chicago has a new location and a new look. Take a virtual photo tour of the new space at 303 E. Wacker in the spring/summer issue.

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Medill SoCal Club Summer Social Aug. 28 in Santa Monica

 

When: Sunday, Aug. 28 – 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.

Where: Location: 1212 Santa Monica (private room), 1212 3rd Street Promenade
Santa Monica, CA
90401

Who: Medill alumnus Andre Gaines will share his career journey and talk about his latest film projects including the documentary “After Jackie,” which premiered on the History Channel in June. “After Jackie” takes a look at the second wave of Black professional baseball players who followed the trailblazing Jackie Robinson.

How much: $15 buys drinks and lunch. Guests welcome!

More about Andre:

Andre Gaines is a producer, writer and director whose credits include the HBO documentary series, “The Lady and the Dale,” the remake of Stephen King’s “Children of the Corn,” Spike Lee’s “Da Sweet Blood of Jesus” and the award-winning film “Bill Nye: Science Guy” on Netflix.

He made his directorial debut with the film “The One and Only Dick Gregory” on Showtime, and he recently directed and executive produced the film “After Jackie” with Lebron James for History Channel, and executive produced the series “The Anarchists” currently on HBO.  Andre and his wife, Lauren, live in Los Angeles with their two sons, Julian and Wesley.

Registration Required: https://secure.ard.northwestern.edu/s/1479/02-naa/16/interior_no-utility.aspx?sid=1479&gid=180&pgid=40546&cid=71983

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Medill Alumni Gathering at NABJ/NAHJ in Vegas on Aug. 4

Join us Caesars Palace Las Vegas Pompeian Ballroom 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Aug. 4 at the NABJ/NAHJ Conference. No registration required.

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ITF announces prize to honor longtime tennis journalist Tom Perrotta (BSJ98)

The International Tennis Federation, along with co-sponsors ATP, WTA and the International Tennis Writers Association, announced a media award to honor the legacy of longtime tennis journalist Tom Perrotta (BSJ98). 

The Tom Perrotta Prize for Tennis Journalism will be presented annually to an outstanding tennis journalist under the age of 40, along with a $2,000 cash prize. Perrotta worked as a freelance sportswriter and as a correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, specializing in his passion for tennis and covering the world’s major tournaments.

“The tennis community lost a beloved member when in January 2021, Tom Perrotta succumbed to a brain tumour after a four-year battle,” Simon Cambers, co-president of the International Tennis Writers Association, said via the International Tennis Federation website. “We hope that his work and this award can serve as an inspiration to the next generation of young writers.”

Perrotta was born in Brooklyn, NY and attended North Providence High School in Rhode Island. Prior to his career as a tennis journalist, he attended Medill and graduated in 1998. 

After a four-year battle with a brain tumor, Perrotta passed away on January 6, 2021 at the age of 44. He is remembered fondly by his colleagues and fellow sportswriters for his kindness and strong work ethic, which were evident even in the most high stakes of moments. Perrotta is survived by his wife Rachel Kane and sons Paul and Sean. 

“He was so personally committed to helping and being generous with his colleagues,” Wall Street Journal columnist Jason Gay said. “It didn’t matter if they worked alongside him, he was beloved in the newsroom, or on the road at an event.”

“I’m so happy that this (prize) was something his family and close friends put together. Tom would be incredibly honored by it. He was somebody who was always looking to help a colleague, but also help find the next great colleague.”

More details about submissions for the Tom Perrotta Prize can be found on the ITF website

 

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Marshall Sella (MSJ88)

The Funny Man
by John Rasmus

Reprinted from Outside Magazine article published Jan. 11, 2022

Marshall Sella started as an intern at Outside in Chicago in 1988, and he went on to a successful career as a magazine writer in New York. His friends and former colleagues will remember him as much for his infectious humor and generous spirit. Here, his editor recalls the impact a young man had on a magazine still finding its voice.

Late one afternoon in the Chicago offices of Outside, I detected some consternation from down the hall, a glitch in the matrix. It was June 1990, and the new issue had just arrived. Marshall Sella, one of our junior editors, came to the door, clearly the designated bearer of bad news. None of the senior editors were going to take responsibility for this one.

“J.R.,” he said, “I’ve got something unfortunate to tell you.” In one of our recent travel packages, he reminded me, we’d published a photo of Earth taken from space, and somehow it had been reversed, making the enormous island nation of Madagascar appear to be off the west coast of Africa—which, of course, it is not. Embarrassing enough.

We’d printed a clever but tortured correction, but now, two months later, someone had noticed that we—i.e., Marshall—had apologized for “showing Madagascar to the east of Africa,” which is where, in fact, Madagascar is. So, we’d botched the photo, then botched the correction, and now we’d have to own up to that, too. In my mind, that would be three tainted issues we couldn’t submit for the National Magazine Awards, at least not for, you know, General Excellence. A steep price for “clever.”

Marshall gamely attempted to explain the unforced error. It had something to do with confusing the east coast of Africa and the west coast of Madagascar, I don’t remember the details, but I do recall his fascinating combination of candor, self-pity, remorse, growing acceptance, and … suddenly, redemption. His face brightened.

“Or maybe,” he offered, “we didn’t really get it wrong. Madagascar is to the east of Africa! Maybe we don’t need to apologize for the apology we didn’t need to make!” This, at least, was the kernel of a reason not to do anything, which I liked. But now he was thinking bigger—about how he could turn this insight into an even more clever meta correction. “Let me see what I can do,” he said, and scooted back to his office.

Marshall Sella, who died unexpectedly in December at 60, still so young, was as responsible as anyone for shaping the Chicago-era vibe of Outside. Founder Lorenzo Burke was the fearless captain of our ship. Brash storytellers like Tim Cahill, writer-adventurers like David Roberts, literary hotshots like David Quammen and his Montana neighbor E. Jean Carroll—they set the bar early and high. But the supporting cast, the editorial crew—younger, less experienced, and, as it turned out, extremely talented—helped shape Outside’s personality and its voice, and nobody more than Marshall. That voice was warm but sly, smart, and never cliquish. If there was a joke involved (and there usually was), you, the reader, were in on it.

Marshall joined us in 1988 as a grad school intern from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, making an impression in his Eastern European military coat and English walking boots. But he was also the midwestern kid from Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, who’d had the lead part in a Milwaukee Players production of Sherlock Holmes. (Maybe that’s where he got those walking boots.) He’d even sung a bit. In any case, he came ready to entertain, in print and around the office.

In those days all the editors, myself included, were works in progress, feeling a bit disconnected from the great outdoor world we covered from our urban outpost at Clark and Division. We had high aspirations for the magazine, we didn’t always meet them, and office life could get a little stressful. I shamefully cop to the label of being “demanding,” at times perhaps borderline insufferable. In any case, we needed all the fake-it-till-you-make-it energy and bravado we could muster, which Marshall supplied, every day, with his warm smirk, his sophisticated, Spy-influenced style, and his near hourly outbursts of laughter that I could hear from my desk.

After graduating, he came on full time and started editing product and travel packages and sidebars, cooking up quizzes, and writing house copy. You could discern his hand in everything from the table of contents to the back page Parting Shot. He worked his captions and short intros to insane, often hilarious precision. It’s easy to see how, by the tenth draft of that Madagascar correction, he’d have utterly confused himself.

Marshall’s office banter was so sharp and came so fast that “he raised everybody’s game just trying to keep up with him,” remembers his fellow intern and future author Dan Coyle. “He had an ability to make other people their funniest, happiest selves.”

A few days ago, more than a dozen of his colleagues got together on a Google call to remember Marshall, and I learned a few new things. He gave fellow editors nicknames like Cashew Head and performed droll impressions of our managing editor, Mark Bryant, and the actor James Mason—if Mason were a slowly sizzling piece of bacon. He claimed that Robert De Niro, with every movie he appeared in, always had a scene where he stomped on someone’s head. He would imitate that, too, with gusto. On the other hand, Marshall’s was the office you went to when you needed to have a little cry.

When Rob Story, a prominent ski writer and another intern from the early days, got married in Telluride, Colorado, Marshall was one of his groomsmen. Dressed in his tuxedo on the big day, and sensing the absurdity of his attire in the Old West mining town, Rob remembers, Marshall went up to the hotel clerk and asked, “Could you tell me if there’s a nice clean hiking trail nearby?”

He was the brother—younger, older, it didn’t matter—we were drawn to and, honestly, adored. By definition, then, we were kind of a family, and he was the star.

“I think everyone had a crush on him,” his friend and colleague Laura Hohnhold said. “All of us.”

Marshall left Outside in 1991 to be a full-time freelancer, then moved to New York in 1993. He slowly became a gravitational force again, writing for New York, GQ, Premiere, Elle, The New York Times Magazine. His friend Will Dana, the former editor of Rolling Stone, recalls him attracting crowds of both sexes at downtown writers’ parties. The staff at Outside, which moved to Santa Fe in 1994, were thrilled when he covered the national cheerleading championships for the first issue of Women Outside.

Marshall’s superpower, everyone seems to agree, was his ability to fiercely connect with and observe people, capture their quirks and tells, and shape those insights into powerful stories, even with only scraps to work with. His moving Times Magazine article “Missing,” published just weeks after 9/11, told the stories of victims through the flyers their loved ones posted all over the city. He profiled Sister Wendy, a British nun and art historian turned wildly popular PBS star, and was one of the very first to capture the populist essence and power of a new media outlet called Fox News. Its boss, the notorious Roger Ailes, was “a pugnacious and jokey man,” Marshall wrote. “His pale blue eyes regard you suspiciously until you’ve spent a lot of time together, and half-suspiciously after that.”

Mark Adams, an old friend and author himself, admired Marshall’s ability to drop himself into stories—subtly and unobtrusively, but to important effect. Not only was he connecting and explaining his subject, but he turned and connected to you, revealing himself along the way. Adams points to Marshall’s 2013 story for GQ about the disgraced New York pol Anthony Weiner.

“Writing a true profile is a genuinely weird endeavor,” Marshall confesses in the middle of that piece. “It’s like being in love without the love: You want to know every little thing about the subject. You will follow them anywhere, always wondering what they’re thinking or why they move their hands like that. You think about them when they are not around. During the reporting phase, if you’re any good at what you do, you’re a little bit insane. But you get time to cool off later: take the real measure, look at the experience from a distance.”

That superpower, like superpowers do, also cost him. His older sister, Claire Meyer, remembers watching a post-9/11 episode of Ric Burns’s PBS series on New York City, which included a brief clip of Marshall reporting “Missing.” “He’s holding one of those flyers, looking at the photo of a victim,” she says, “absorbing the loss not only of an individual, but in its totality.” She remembers watching her brother put his hands to his face, stricken.

By the early 2000s, Marshall had more magazine work than he could handle. According to Dana, “Every editor he worked with wanted to work with him again.” Each piece needed to be perfect and on time, and he expected his editors to get what he was trying to do. Later in his career, his friends say, he’d decide if he wanted to work with someone based on whether he thought they’d cut his jokes.

Marshall’s only thwarted ambition, Adams and others say, was to become a successful humorist, a Will Rogers type or a comedy writer for Letterman. That combination of high-wire wit and a big stage would have been worthy of his talents. He had to settle for being one of the best magazine writers of his generation.

Finally, he was also a great and thoughtful friend. Adams, an early riser, would get morning texts from night-owl Marshall wrapping up his workday at 5 a.m. Long before Facebook, Adams remembers, “Marshall would find out your birthday and call or send you an email every year.” He was close to his family back in Milwaukee—“he was the coolest uncle in the world, my role model,” his nephew, John Mörk, told me—and kept in touch with his Outside family. We all got one of those birthday greetings every year.

One of the nice things about being around for the early days of a magazine, or any organization, is that you have a chance to set a tone, a sensibility. If it works, it can carry on, like a regional accent, for generations. Reading Outside today, I hear Marshall’s voice still coming through from a group of smart, young, ambitious editors and writers who were likely toddlers when Marshall was crafting that sound, testing it, taking it to the next level.

Not long before he left Outside and Chicago, Marshall wrote what turned out to be a fitting send-off, for the magazine’s 15th anniversary issue. Titled “Atlas Shrugged,” the short piece captured our early days perfectly: self-aware, not afraid to fail, ready to delight.

“Magazine editing, like faith and seismic shifts, can move mountains,” he wrote. “And over the years, Outside has moved a few of them—not to mention the odd rainforest, country, and ocean.” His piece recounted the magazine’s most boneheaded location muffs and, in a final meta touch, named his Madagascar double doink “Outside’s most ambitious gaffe of all time.”

“No one is fired for the incident,” he wrote about that day in my office, “though the man responsible for the ‘correction’ is later forced to write an article about geographic errors for Outside’s 15th anniversary issue.”

Well done, Marshall.

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Babysitting dilemma helps carve career path for S.F. Chronicle writer Ruthe Stein (BSJ67, MSJ68)

Story by Myra Krieger
Photo by Pamela Gentile

Published in San Francisco Senior Beat

Ruthe Stein’s parents unwittingly imbued her with a love of the movies, a romance that would lead to a lifelong career. Her dad, beleaguered with the responsibility of caring for his daughter on Saturday afternoons, would drop her off at one of Chicago’s giant movie houses.

“The movies were his babysitter,” Stein said. “He never checked what the film was about or if it was appropriate for a 12-year-old, so I saw a lot of adult fare.”

When she went with her movie-loving mother, ticket takers would argue that Stein was too young to be admitted. Her mother argued back:“`Well, she’s not going to understand it.’” Stein recalled. “I was five.”

By the time she was 25, the youthful movie lover had become a professional movie critic, reporting for the San Francisco Chronicle for 50 years. Along the way, she was a reporter for Jet and Ebony magazines, taught journalism, and wrote a self-help book for singles.

It’s easier to make up a roster of A-listers whom she hasn’t interviewed than one that she has. Of course, there are ones who top the queue, like Cary Grant, Princess Grace, George Clooney, Renee Zellweger, Al Pacino, Meryl Streep, Paul Newman and Matt Damon. She’s interviewed about 300 movie stars and directors.

She earned her master’s degree at the Medill and graduated in After a jaunt to Denver, where she taught journalism to community college students for about a year, a serendipitous event reshaped her career.

Headstart at Ebony magazine

“The publisher of Ebony and Jet magazines, John Johnson, wanted to diversify the workforce. I’m white and a woman, both of which were missing from his organization. Plus, I had chutzpah and good credentials.” Stein joined the staff as a reporter.

She hung out in the company cafeteria where she never allowed herself to become intimidated in casual conversations with stars like Sammy Davis Jr., James Earl Jones, James Brown or Lou Rawls, she said.

“Initially, I wasn’t taken seriously; I was the token white girl.” she said. “But my experience in interviewing, writing stories for this nationally known African American publication helped open doors.”

Stein started as a feature writer for the women’s section of the Chronicle in 1970, writing about movies and interviewing movie stars and celebrities. She became a movie editor in 1989 and later, a film critic.

Stain managed to eke out more time than many other journalists to talk to movie stars and produce unique, in-depth stories. How did she do that?

“Movies get released and A-list actors are under a binding contract to be interviewed by the press. Lots of times, as a Chronicle reporter with a good following, I was ahead of the queue. I was allowed 20 minutes; I took more and usually nobody minded.

“I tried to get different things from people because I’ve read so many interviews where they’re saying the same thing. I try to think of questions that other people haven’t asked.”

Her latest book

Getting different things from people is Stein’s specialty. Her latest book, ”Sitting Down with the Stars,” a peek into the lives of 100 Hollywood legends, provides subtle but provocative stories about each actor: Who knew that Nicholas Cage’s uncle is Frances Ford Coppola or that Steve Martin is an accomplished playwright or that Antonio Banderas’ words would be so wise?: “There has to be an acceptance that we get older, and that is not good or bad but it is a fact. There is much more of a universe I am living in now, partly because of my heart attack.”

The new book is her second offering; the first was “The Art of Single Living.” She wrote a singles column that was syndicated in 30 newspapers in the U.S. and Canada but stopped writing about the single life when she was no longer single.

She didn’t hesitate when asked about the worst and best films of recent times. The worst: “Basic Instinct 2.” The best: “Little Miss Sunshine.”

Her gauge is like that of most moviegoers: “A good film is one I enjoy, can get lost in for two hours. A bad film is when I keep looking at my watch. It’s a lot of fun to write a bad review, especially of a big Hollywood movie when you know what you write has zero impact. I’m more careful about what I say when it’s a small indie film; a very bad review can put a kibosh on everything.”

In 2006, Stein co-founded the “Mostly British Film Festival,” which shows English language movies made outside the U.S. in places like New Zealand, Ireland and South Africa. The post-pandemic revival of the festival begins in February at the Vogue Theater.

Preserving small film houses

The festival is the revenue generator for the San Francisco Neighborhood Theater Foundation, which helps rescue small, single- to three-screen movie houses like the Vogue, Opera Plaza, Presidio and others from extinction. Stein works closely with Jack Bair, co-director of the Mostly British Film Festival, and Alfonso Felder – both senior vice presidents of the San Francisco Giants – who help raise money for the foundation.

How does one become a movie critic? It’s a question Stein hears often. She said she isn’t certain but added: “I am curious about people. At parties, I’m always a good person to bring along because I can make anybody start talking about stuff. Either you have that ability or you don’t.”

Discipline and productivity count as well. “I have never missed a deadline in all 50 years. While at the Toronto film festival, I interviewed three actors in two different hotels in one hour, and I was not late for a single one of them and I got all my questions answered.”

Since retiring, teaching and lecturing at the Fromm Institute is a big part of her life. Over the past five years, she’s covered a wide range of topics, including Melodrama in Film; Jews and Film; Romance Movies. In the spring, she plans to focus on women directors, the careers of Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro, and inside looks at directors Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg and Francis Ford Coppola.

Enjoying getting older

There’s little hard luck in Stein’s story. She grew up in middle- to upper-class Chicago with an older brother and sister. Her father was a boxing promoter who also managed fighters.

“I got to know them when I went to Miami Beach, where he trained them. He got pushed out in the ’50s when fights went on TV and the Mafia got involved,” she said. “Later, he owned and operated clothing stores on State Street.

“I think I get my energy from my mother who was a schoolteacher; she eventually took over the library also. In the ’50s, when the TV networks included movies in their programming, we would be sure to make a night of it, reflecting on the story afterward.”

As this septuagenarian approaches her 77th birthday, she said, “I don’t mind being older as long as I stay healthy. In fact, I’m kind of enjoying it.”

She exercises and walks a lot in her Russian Hill neighborhood and is a voracious reader. Not surprisingly, she watches plenty of movies with her husband, Dean Macris, the former director of the San Francisco Planning Commission.

Her current datebook is filled with talks and events promoting her latest book.

Stein says that by the time she was in eighth grade she knew she wanted to be a gossip columnist. She never had that title, but she came as close as anyone could expect.

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Stephanie Edgerly Wins 2020 Outstanding JMCQ Award

Medill Associate Professor and Director of Research Stephanie Edgerly and Emily K. Vraga won the 2020 Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly (JMCQ) award for their article, “Deciding What’s News: News-ness as an Audience Concept for the Hybrid Media Environment.”

The typical way news has been defined is from a journalist’s point of view. This study proposes a new way of addressing the definition of “news” from the point of view of readers. The article places the audience’s sensemaking processes at the center to better understand how consumers define what media content counts as news and offers an essential framework for addressing the fluidity of news consumption. This framework opens new pathways for understanding the future of journalism studies internationally.

This annual award recognizes an article that makes significant contributions to theory and methodology in journalism and mass communication. The winner is selected by Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication members, the JMCQ editorial review board, and the editorial team of the journal. The authors of the winning article receive a certificate as well as $1,000 cash award during the AEJMC annual convention.

Read the articles here: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/1077699020916808
https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/1077699020906492

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Ash Steffy, Dean Charles Whitaker and Rob Weiss (BSJ87) at the Palm Springs event

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Kenneth Piner (MSJ93), Victor Chi (BSJ91) and Ann Lee (MSJ07) at the Jan. 25 NU alumni event “Partnerships in LGBTQ+ Issues” in Palm Springs

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Medill’s Local News Initiative leaders discuss findings, future plans

Photo by Andrew Skwish
Story by Thea Showalter (BSJ22)

Amidst a national crisis for local news organizations, Medill is seeking ways to save and strengthen the local news industry through the Local News Initiative (LNI), a groundbreaking project that aims to diagnose the challenges facing smaller news organizations and develop solutions.

For the past year and a half, Medill has collaborated with three newspapers, receiving hard-to-get data to analyze in exchange for providing the papers with crucial research on how to navigate the changing terrain of news media.

“LNI is developing new insights into reader behavior that is helping local news organizations grow their numbers of digital subscribers,” said Tim Franklin, senior associate dean of Medill and leader of the Local News Initiative. “This work is critically important now as local news organizations pivot from an advertising-supported business model to one focused on reader revenue.”

Newspapers have historically made the vast majority of their revenue from advertising, according to Associate ProfessorTom Collinger, Executive Director of the Medill IMC Spiegel Digital & Database Research Center. But as the habits of readers change, news organizations are increasingly depending on revenue from subscribers, not advertisers, leading to a pressing need to understand subscriber behavior.

In the fall of 2018, researchers from Medill’s Spiegel Research Center received 13 terabytes of subscriber data from its three partner papers— the Chicago Tribune, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the Indianapolis Star (Indy Star). The data would help the researchers probe questions about local news readership that had never before been answered.

“I’m especially proud that the analytical work that we have been doing is work that in many other industries would be easily available now online,” Collinger said.

But understanding local news subscriber behavior was far from easy. Researchers at The Spiegel Research Center had to merge two vast sets of data— subscriber data and clickstream data— to map how individual subscribers behaved when reading online.

In February of 2019, LNI came out with initial findings: in order to keep readers as digital subscribers, news organizations must encourage them to develop a regular reading habit and provide unique local content to make their subscription valuable.

Over the summer and fall of 2019, Franklin, along with Spiegel Research Center Director and Professor Ed Malthouse, presented LNI findings at the annual conferences for the Newspaper Association Managers, News Leaders Association, and Online News Association.

“We’ve gotten a whole lot of publicity on this,” said Malthouse. “It’s been very satisfying to see the work take off like this.”

For the Chicago Tribune, partnering with the LNI has provided an “outsider’s perspective” on audience data that, alongside the Tribune’s internal data analysis, has helped to “paint a broad picture of what content areas are the most valuable” to readers, said Christine Taylor, managing editor of audience at the Tribune.

The findings have shown the Tribune that its readers are “overwhelmingly” smartphone readers, prompting the Tribune to focus on its app in 2020, and explore tools to boost mobile engagement.

“It forces us to think about how we prepare and produce our content to meet those readers,” said Taylor. “It just makes us think differently about our deadlines— it makes us think differently about how we construct our stories. It’s really forcing the newsroom to just think very differently about how it approaches content.”

A year after the LNI began working with the subscription data, the LNI won a Google Innovation Award in October 2019 in order to build what is called a “subscriber engagement index,” a digital tool that will show local newspapers how their actions are impacting their subscribers in real time.

A newspaper that shares its data with the index will be able to see how its subscribers behave compared to other papers using various metrics, and how those behaviors contribute to retention and subscription rates.

“That’s where we’re going. We’re building this out as we speak,” said Collinger. “And it’s a significant piece of data work….The industry has never seen anything like this.”

In the next few months, LNI will also examine the “finances of customer retention,” said Malthouse. Finding strategies to encourage a reader to subscribe to a newspaper is only the first step.

“If you have a new customer, you have to nurture that relationship,” said Malthouse. “Teaching the news organizations how to take this new customer and nurture that relationship, and turn that person into a regular reader who values your content is the name of the game. So that, I think, is going to be a big part of where we go.”

Collinger added that Medill is uniquely qualified to lead the way on local news research, because the Local News Initiative is a product of all the programs that make Medill different.

“Medill uniquely has a world class journalism program and a world class integrated marketing communication program, and the integration of the best of those two things made this possible,” said Collinger. “It is not what makes Medill the same, but what makes us different in complementary ways that has allowed this to be such a wonderful expression of where we believe media is going.”