Apple's Steve Jobs influenced technology, MU School of Journalism

Thursday, October 6, 2011 | 9:41 p.m. CDT; updated 11:43 a.m. CDT, Saturday, October 8, 2011
The original flyer used in 2003 to invite dialogue between the School of Journalism faculty and Apple representatives, featuring Walter Williams, the founder of the school.

COLUMBIA — Keith Politte has a lot of Apple in his life.

He still owns an Apple II, which in 1977 was the first mass computer released; a Macintosh 128K from 1984; an Apple Clone; and an iMac Graphite. He currently uses two iMacs and a PowerBook. He’s on his third iPhone, and he owns four or five iPods of different generations and an iPad. He also owns many Apple T-shirts. 

Politte, manager of the Technology Testing Center at the Reynolds Journalism Institute, is the self-proclaimed architect of the arrangement through which students at the Missouri School of Journalism use Apple products. 

On Thursday, the day after Apple co-founder Steve Jobs died, Politte reflected on his personal and professional relationship with the company that changed the way people think about technology.

Two things got his attention 10 years ago: Apple had just released its OS X operating system, which because it was Unix-based, had a higher level of protection against viruses. Fewer viruses meant fewer people were needed to service the computers, so the School of Journalism could save money.

Moreover, Apple had just released its iLife suite, which integrated photo, audio and video tools.

“We looked at those and said, 'That would be a really elegant solution for teaching the basic principles of media convergence,'” Politte said. 

Together with Brian Brooks, associate dean for undergraduate studies and administration at the School of Journalism, Politte made several trips to Apple headquarters in Cupertino, Calif. The two were paired with Lori Clithero, an account manager for Apple, who was also a graduate of MU's Trulaske College of Business.

“Brian Brooks has a great saying that we still refer to, which is, ‘What can we do now that we haven’t been able to do before?’” Politte said. “We knew we needed to change the culture. We knew we needed to accelerate a culture of innovation, of experimentation, because the technology was advancing so quickly that we wanted to be able to capture that opportunity.”

They spent a year discussing with the faculty whether Apple products could improve their work. In September 2003, they organized a meeting between Apple representatives and the school faculty.

Politte printed out a poster with a picture of Walter Williams, the founder of the school, with this question: “Would Walter Williams have been a Mac user?” He distributed the poster in faculty mailboxes and elsewhere in the school.

At about the same time, Apple was working on a project called Apple Digital Campus and was searching for schools to partner with and deploy its technology. Five schools were chosen: Stanford University, Duke University, Pennsylvania State University, The Ohio State University and the Missouri School of Journalism.

“The technology really helped us transform our curriculum," Brooks said. "It changed the way we do things and forced us to move in new directions. We felt that there is a need to update the way we teach, and I think the technology helped us to do that.”

Apple’s headquarters is also referred to as a "campus," one filled with “extraordinarily bright and creative people out to change the world,” said Politte, who has visited several times over the past years.

Steve Jobs’ influence could be felt all around the Cupertino campus, where employees seemed to internalize Jobs’ passion for excellence, Politte said.

“For every employee I know at Apple, it’s not a job; it’s a mission. It’s a deeply personal expression,” he said.

Once, when he and Brian Brooks were attending a meeting at Cupertino, Tim Cook, the successor to Jobs, was brought into the meeting. Politte described him as being “extremely smart and kind of quiet. He was born in the South, so he has kind of a Southern gentleman air about him, but he is, like Steve, extraordinarily focused.”

Politte believes the company will not change, at least for the next couple of years, under Cook’s leadership.

“They have so many things in the pipeline right now, and the company has so much momentum behind them right now. And they have a very, very deep bench of talent and passion,” he said.

The magic of the Apple devices, Politte said, is the emotional response, triggered by design and user experience, that people have when using them.

“(Providing personal computers) was giving the most powerful technologies ever invented into the hands of the masses," Politte said. "And (Jobs) could have done it cheap and shady, but he didn’t. He did it in an elegant, thoughtful, almost kind of a spiritual way.”  

For the School of Journalism, Apple products have been catalysts allowing students to do things differently than before, Politte said.

“It’s about trying to push the creative tools down to everybody,” he said. “Get them going and then step out of the way.” 

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