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Columbia Missourian

Keynote speaker Bill Geist encourages journalism graduates with humor

By Doug Davis
May 15, 2010 | 6:27 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — No one knows with certainty where they will be 20 years after college graduation.

But persistence is key to getting where you want to be in your career, according to  Bill Geist (MA Communications, '71), an Emmy award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He was the commencement speaker Saturday night for the School of Journalism's graduation ceremonies.


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Geist frequently contributes offbeat segments to "CBS Sunday Morning," a news-feature program that has been on the air for 30 years.

He used examples from his own career to demonstrate two things to MU Journalism School graduates — the value of persistence in realizing career goals in journalism, and the need to remember that journalism is as much a calling as it is a career.

Getting those two points across to an audience would be job enough for most speakers, but Geist went one step better — he delivered each point in his lesson with humor.

Poking fun at unpaid journalism internships, Geist said they were "previously known as a felony violation of the fair minimum wage act. Before that, they called it slavery. If you do well, you may be offered a full-time job with an actual salary."

It's always been tough to get a foothold in journalism, Geist said. There is a lot of anxiety about the economy in general, and about journalism specifically. Talking with some of the evening's graduates, showed the reason behind some of that anxiety. Few have concrete job offers.

Daryl Kirkland-Morgan, who graduated with a bachelor's degree in radio/TV said, she had no job offer yet, but was staying open. "I've applied for jobs. I'm very hopeful and very excited."

One of the students who had a job waiting next week was Ryan Huber, who received an undergraduate degree in convergence journalism. Huber is staying in Columbia to work for MU's athletic dept while getting a master's degree in journalism. He said "they're paying for tuition and fees, plus a little extra."

Even though the jobs market is down now, Geist pointed out that working in journalism delivers the possibility of a varied, diverse career.

"Journalism is a calling," he said. "It doesn't mean you make a vow of poverty. I suspect you(the graduating class) got into it for the same reason. We're truth seekers with intellectual curiosity, and a touch of ADHD. I don't think any of us could stand to do the same thing every day for 40 years."

Geist praised the training he got at Missouri while using dry humor to remind graduates that journalism isn't all about the money.

"I'm here to tell you that when I got out of the school, Missouri, a great school, the best, without a doubt, I was making $6,000 a year. And no matter what these people tell you, I think it's still possible to make that kind of money. Don't take a penny less."

Journalism was in his blood, Geist said. His parents ran a country newspaper in central Illinois and it wasn't a great job market then either, he said. He said his mother would trade ad space in the paper for groceries.


Still, covering towns with names like Oblong and Normal provided some humorous headlines. He said his father covered a wedding once and titled the story "Oblong woman marries Normal man."

Toward the end of his address, Geist touched on another key to success in journalism, or any career for that matter.

His advice? "Be lucky."

Missouri's School of Journalism awarded 445 bachelor's degrees this spring, 85 master's degrees and 8 doctoral degrees, an increase of 27 over last spring.