Journalism, Law, and Teaching: Max Bell School of Public Policy Professor Mark Lloyd’s Insight

 Mark Lloyd, a professor of professional practice in the Max Bell School of Public Policy, is addressing how students think about issues. In his Coms 362 Communication Rights and Wrongs course, he wants us to understand the policies at play that directly impact our lives. Working in journalism, he witnessed firsthand how communication policy changes altered the news. What people wanted to see wasn’t suddenly different, the structures providing them were. Besides a long career in journalism, Professor Lloyd worked as a lawyer, at a private firm as well as the Federal Communications Commission, the FCC. He was part of the Clinton transition team at the White House, involved with thinktanks, and a visiting professor at MIT, USC – Annenburg, and Georgetown University. His career is marked by pursuing his interests and searching for why things are how they are.

As a teenager, he was guided by the principle of the “golden rule” which is just to say that we should all treat others how we want to be treated, that our purpose here is to make the world better than we found it. This kindness led to an interest in hearing and telling other people’s stories, especially voiceless communities. A drive to tell real stories in a way that people can hear and absorb them mattered to him. Later, he would realize their importance in informing decision makers. This is not to say that as a teenager he had a clear understanding of the dialogue between policy and story-telling, the relationship between societal structures and those who live within them. Moving off of this “impulse to figure out how to tell stories and make things better,” he attended University of Michigan – Ann Arbor where he double majored in journalism and political science. At university, he began working at a student run radio station which was his entrance to radio and documentaries.

From Ann Arbor, he moved to Toledo, Ohio to work in television at a CBS affiliate as a Program Assistor. A job that was the result of networking, meeting new people, and expressing his interests. At this new job, he examined ratings and did ascertainment. Many years ago, all broadcasters were required to go into communities and talk to leaders to see what’s important to those areas. Through these interviews, Professor Lloyd met a woman in charge of an organization that advocated on behalf of the disabled in Toledo. She told him about a man in a wheelchair who, every single day, needed help getting up the stairs to work. This is where luck and community come into play. Talking to friends at a party, he told them about the disabled community and the man, and one of the attendees, son of the head of an insurance company in town, said his dad would want to fund a documentary about this community.

Professor Lloyd crunched the numbers and talked with the friend’s dad. Two insurance companies stepped in to pay for the documentary which meant he created a fully-funded primetime documentary which would not happen today. This spurred them to pay for one every quarter. On top of his public affairs documentary work, he produced and wrote for a variety of shows on his channel, garnering a promotion within nine months. Even though it was a great learning experience, Mr. Lloyd was ready for a change and started doing anchor work and reporting at a competing station in town. While interesting, news casting was not his passion. He really enjoyed producing shows and telling stories. Throughout his career, there has been an undercurrent of his core principle of caring for people. He has kept in mind how what he was doing mattered and the larger context surrounding his work.

From Toledo, he moved to Cleveland and from Cleveland he went to D.C.  He has an innate curiosity to understand why things are the way they are. A curiosity that led him to many D.C. institutions including CNN and law school at Georgetown University. At this juncture, Mr. Lloyd found out what was happening at the FCC. Policies changed which in turn affected jobs and industries. Seeing how news had changed prompted him to return to documentaries. He was offered a job at a black think tank, made a documentary on teens in trouble in Washington, and went on to win an Emmy. At night, he attended law school. By remembering the bigger picture, he was able to juggle his many responsibilities.

While in law school, he was on the Smithsonian Institution board and met the Clintons whose transition team he joined. While working on the team, he looked at policies on arts and humanities organizations that the President had appointment power over like the Kennedy Center. He also worked at a communication law firm that covered everything from internet to billboards, intellectual property to tax laws. He went on to become General Counsel for the Benton Foundation and consequently started a thinktank with a friend. He did research, advocacy work, and drove a policy through from start to end at the FCC. Organizing a national campaign, he was able to be the change he wanted to see.

The new FCC Chairman after the 2000 election no longer supported policy changes that held media publicly accountable. Thus, Mark Lloyd, not passionate about working somewhere that wasn’t doing public interest work, moved on to MIT where he researched, wrote his book Prologue to a Farce, Communication and Democracy in America, and taught. Later, after another election, he returned to the FCC as a lawyer who examined ways to meet goals of localism and diversity. Continuing with teaching, he taught communication policy at the Georgetown University Public Policy Institute. Afterward, he continued to teach, going to USC – Annenburg as well as here at McGill University.

For students today, Professor Lloyd thinks a major challenge is understanding what the changes in society mean for them and the work that they may want to do. He believes students should “exercise the skill in how to think and learn creatively” as well as learn how to learn. University is not just a box to check to get a job—it is part of the endless pursuit of knowledge. He urges students to engage in class, and the space around them, “you are paying to learn something. Ask the question.” Institutional frameworks, like our universities, impact how we think of ourselves. They impact how we live our lives, dictating what it seems like we can achieve. These imposed frameworks are why Professor Lloyd insists on the importance of student participation, that they grab onto their education and the institution around them.

He encourages students to figure out what they’re interested in and passionate about.  For him, he figured out what he was interested in by knowing what he cared about and why. At various times in his life, he has asked himself, “What am I doing here? Why is this important?” Checking in with where you are in life is valuable, and even if you’re “bumbling” through, at least “bumble with something you’re having fun with.” His career hasn’t always been smooth sailing, but when you’re working towards a bigger picture, something that helps others for instance, the work becomes much more pleasant. “Going in with the wrong perspective, warps perception,” so go in after a process of understanding. Try to hear what people are saying and the core of their meaning. Find out what matters to you and shape your life around it. If you keep it about why you’re doing what you’re doing, so you’re not lost, then everything is more manageable.

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