Oprah Winfrey made $100 a week in her first TV job. Dick Clark had to move back in with his parents in Utica after he graduated college. And Alan Gerry studied television repair on the GI Bill after leaving the Marines.
On Sept. 29, 2014, Winfrey, a self-made media magnate, unveiled the brand new Newhouse Studio and Innovation Center, featuring Dick Clark Studios and the Alan Gerry Center for Media Innovation. The $18 million studio project was years in the making and elevated Newhouse’s studio and technical facilities into a new era. The Clark family donated to the project in honor of legendary broadcaster Dick Clark ’51. Alan Gerry is a cable television pioneer, entrepreneur and former chairman and CEO of Cablevision Industries Corporation.
It was only fitting that Winfrey, the “queen of media”—as dubbed by Newhouse Dean Lorraine Branham—help dedicate the new facility, which features world-class studios with high-definition production capabilities, a full soundstage, a media lab for journalism innovation and the brand new digital news center.
Excitement about the dedication had been building for months. Construction crews worked around the clock to put the finishing touches on everything from hallways to signage to furniture. And student tickets to Winfrey’s remarks in Goldstein Auditorium at the Schine Student Center were distributed in just minutes.
Beneath a brilliant blue sky and unseasonably warm temperatures, the Newhouse School sparkled that morning as throngs of Newhouse donors, friends, alumni, faculty, staff and students gathered for the dedication and Winfrey’s arrival to campus.
Just before 1 p.m., Winfrey walked into Goldstein Auditorium where more than 40 tables of guests attended a dedication luncheon. Students had just started filling the upper balcony seats when her appearance drew a round of cheers, applause and camera flashes. With Dean Branham at her side making introductions, Winfrey walked around the whole room, shaking hands, giving hugs and posing for photos, many of which were quickly shared on social media. The program included videos about Clark and Gerry with introductions by Newhouse professors Michael Schoonmaker and Dan Pacheco.
The first thing Winfrey said when she took the stage was that she’d been advised to wear orange for her visit to Syracuse University, but accidentally forgot those dresses in a hotel room in New York City. She wore blue instead, which contrasted nicely with Branham’s orange suit.
Winfrey talked about her own career journey, saying that in one of her earliest jobs she begged people to teach her new skills in order to compete in the industry. It took getting laid off and shuffled into a talk show spot for her to find her comfort zone, Winfrey said. Winfrey, who for years dominated the daytime talk show market and has launched countless other careers with her magazine and TV network, said she was thrilled to see the Clark, Gerry and Newhouse families doing such good with their success.
Winfrey encouraged students to work hard and follow their hearts.
“Use that great passion to go out into the world,” she said. “Allow the passion in your heart to lead you to do good and do great work.”
Following Winfrey’s remarks, the program moved to the Newhouse building next door, where an orange-draped stage faced a blocked-off Waverly Avenue. Winfrey was joined on stage by Branham, Syracuse University Chancellor Kent Syverud, Donald Newhouse, Kari Clark and Alan Gerry. Clark said her late husband would have been proud to have his name on the studio and Newhouse said his family was excited about the school’s future. Gerry encouraged students to take advantage of every opportunity and to be bold in their youth.
“You have one shot,” he said. “Remember this day.”
Thousands of people packed the area surrounding the stage, with many craning to get a glimpse of Winfrey. “We love you, Oprah!” could be heard sporadically from the crowd. People stood two-deep atop the elevated walkway edges between the Schine and Newhouse buildings and even stood on several floors of the Sheraton parking garage across the street.
The crowd erupted each time Winfrey spoke.
Just before cutting the ceremonial ribbon officially opening the new studio, Winfrey proclaimed, “Let the new generation of innovation come forth!”
Winfrey and the donors then moved inside the studio for a tour.
The ribbon-cutting and dedication ceremony events were bookended by two symposia to mark the day. Pacheco, the Peter A. Horvitz Chair of Journalism Innovation, moderated “The Future of Digital Journalism” in the morning and professor Robert Thompson, director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture, moderated the afternoon panel, which explored the life of Dick Clark.
Panelists in the morning panel offered examples of their work and talked about how the lines among media platforms are blurring, how media organizations must constantly assess their work and how the landscape is changing at lightning speed. To close the discussion, each panelist was asked to give a prediction about media in the next decade. Ed Wise ’00 of Turner Digital and Branded Entertainment said Facebook is here to stay. Mitch Gelman of Gannett Digital said experiential storytelling will continue to evolve and spread. Larry Hryb ’89 of Xbox Live said the gaming industry will become more mainstream. And Kristina Hahn ’98 of Google said she believed the majority of television advertising will be user-choiced or skipped in the future.
Wise stressed that the media landscape isn’t changing every 10 years, “it’s changing every six months.”
To close the day, Thompson led a nostalgic and reflective discussion of the life and career of legendary broadcaster Dick Clark. With Clark’s family in the audience, Thompson addressed how Clark tapped into youth culture, first by playing rock ‘n’ roll on the radio and then later with “American Bandstand.” Clark, a 1951 Syracuse University alumnus, was a savvy businessman who had the presence and charisma of an entertainer. He was smart, good looking and focused, Thompson said, a combination of talents that in the 1950s was a force.
Thompson showed fuzzy, black-and-white clips from some of Clark’s earliest television work as well as one of his final public appearances, hosting his “Rockin’ New Year’s Eve” special in 2011, when the legend was still visibly suffering the effects of a previous, major stroke.
The opening of the Studio and Innovation Center at Newhouse also kicked off the school’s 50th anniversary. The dedication events embraced the future while recognizing the past. Dean Branham said the studio project encapsulated both for her.
The studio, she said, is “symbolic of the marriage of the traditional and the progressive, the past and the future.”
—Emily Kulkus ’02