Professor Steve Davis talks Newhouse, traveling and the future of journalism

by Lauren Dana

October 4, 2017

In advance of his retirement next spring, Steve Davis tells us about his travels across the globe, establishing his own newspaper and the importance of patience.

Steve Davis, professor and chair of the newspaper and online journalism department, spent over 30 years in the industry and nearly 20 years at the Newhouse School. He recently sat down with student reporter Lauren Dana to answer some questions about his experiences.

Dana: Before coming to Newhouse, what jobs did you hold in the industry?

Davis: I worked at The Clarion-Ledger, a daily newspaper in Jackson, Mississippi; that was my first job right out of college. After, I moved to Rochester, New York and worked at a newspaper there. Then I moved to Washington, D.C. to work for the Gannett company.

Then I went to USA Today until the early '90s, when I left to run a newspaper in Southern Pennsylvania where I was executive editor. I’ve always wanted to run my own newspaper. I quit in 1999 to come back to Syracuse. I found out about a job at Newhouse teaching “boot camp” in the summer. Before you knew it, I was on the tenure track and became the department chair, and here we are—I’m going to retire in 2018!

Dana: What’s one thing you hope students get from taking one of your classes?

Davis: Journalism is a thinking person’s job, because everybody—well, almost everybody—can produce a story, but what separates people is the way they think about it. The best journalists are really smart people and good thinkers.

Dana: What’s one thing you’ve learned from teaching at Newhouse?

Davis: Nothing! (Laughs). One thing is that people always talk about "students," and I’ve found "students" to be so individual that I gave up generalizing "students." It’s kind of a cliché, but it’s also true.

I’ve also tried to learn patience.  It’s become clear to me now that patience might not be my strong suit—but I’m working on it to this day.

Dana: What has been your biggest accomplishment while working at Newhouse?

Davis: I started a monthly newspaper called The Stand on the south side of the city, so I’d say that was a pretty big one. I also worked and took a couple classes overseas. Those have been great experiences and great life lessons.

Dana: What has been your most memorable trip with Newhouse?

Davis: Well, they’re really different. I went to South Africa, and I’m taking a group of students back this December. I also spent some time in Liberia on a project that [Professor] Ken Harper originated; we were there trying to inspire and train young journalists. Two years ago, I went to the West Bank in Israel and spent 10 days there. You can read and follow the news, but nothing beats going there.

Dana: What’s your favorite aspect of working at Newhouse?

Davis: As department chair, you get involved in a lot of administrative work and strategic plans and all of that stuff, but that’s not what I like. I like teaching journalism.

Dana: Where do you see our industry in five years?

Davis: Who the heck knows? I’m pretty confident that [journalism] is going to stick around and people are realizing how important it is.

Dana: Do you have any parting words for Newhouse before you retire this spring?

Davis: Well, I’m not leaving for several months so I haven’t given that much thought, but I’ll miss it. Part of the reason I’m not too concerned about journalism is that there’s so many good people coming through the door. While some of us are leaving, Newhouse is in pretty good hands.

Lauren Dana is a junior magazine journalism major at Newhouse.