Lonnie “Lee” Ivory was among the first editors and reporters to witness a new era in journalism when USA Today was launched in the early 1980s.
Initially ridiculed for its colorful pages, short articles and splashy graphics, USA Today soon became a template for newspapers throughout the country.
Ivory, currently serving as a Dabney Distinguished Professor in the School of Mass Communications, worked for the Gannett-owned newspaper for nearly 25 years. During a recent Mass Comm Week lecture, he said that USA Today eventually became the most–read newspaper in the country.
At the heart of USA Today’s vision three decades ago and today’s journalism driven by an Internet culture is truth, Ivory explained to approximately 30 students who attended his lecture in VCU’s Student Commons. Several mass communications faculty members also were in attendance, along with Glenn Proctor, retiring executive editor of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
“At the end of the day, the mission remains the same,” he said.
Ivory studied at Henderson University, working at the school’s paper since his freshman year, and graduating with a bachelor’s degree in journalism.
“College is an educational experience, but not just scholastically,” Ivory said. “You need to be able to live a life outside of these walls. I think there is nothing more valuable than real-time experience.”
Originally intending to work in TV news, he found the job market scarce, and ended up at a small local paper, where he then graduated to the news editor, managing editor and national editor positions for the Gannett News Service, where he managed coverage of presidential elections, the federal government and other major national news. A proponent of experiential learning, Ivory hopes to enable his students to excel in the journalistic profession.
“I wish for my students to learn two things,” he said. “Learn all you can so you can be self sufficient in this field, and don’t ever, ever, ever be afraid.”
He said students should put themselves out there and not let possible denial prevent them from aiming for the top.
“I tell my students ‘be bold,’ you know,” he said. “Call Rolling Stone, call MTV. The worst that could happen is they say ‘no.’ ”
His enthusiasm and confidence seemed to help instill faith in the students regarding their own skills. After Ivory’s lecture, students asked serious, thoughtful questions about topics ranging from the development of online journalism, the fate of newspapers, citizen journalism and the students’ potential place in the unsure future of media.
“I’m encouraged by you,” Ivory said to the student journalists. “You won’t be one-dimensional like we were. You are going to be the next generation of truth tellers.”
Obviously excited by what he sees as the boundlessness of the Internet and its capabilities, Ivory said that he intends to see his students into the new wave of journalism, encouraging and advising with his wealth of real-world experience.