NEW YORK — Fox News Channel viewers know Shepard Smith as the network’s lead news anchor, but for the past two weeks, he’s been Professor Shep as well.
No tweed allowed, though. Smith sat on the edge of a table at Fox’s headquarters one day this week, feet dangling off the edge, and worked without notes as he taught a journalism class to 11 students from back home at the University of Mississippi.
The intense, two-week course included one week on the students’ turf in Mississippi and one week in New York.
Smith was urged to teach the course by the journalism school dean — the same teacher who, when Smith left Ole Miss six credits short of graduation in 1987 to take a TV job, said the student wouldn’t amount to much. In his last contract negotiation, Smith said Fox News chief Roger Ailes begrudgingly agreed to let him take three weeks off to try.
That was the plan, anyway.
“I know and love my boss and part of what I know is if he looks up at the television screen and I’m not there and he looks up a second week and I’m still not there and there’s something going on, it doesn’t matter what was said a year ago,” Smith said.
So he fit the course in around a reporting trip to Mississippi to cover the flooding, where students joined him, and days in New York that culminate in his 7 p.m. ET newscast.
Multi-media Storytelling is the course’s formal name. Essentially, it’s Shep TV, as Smith tries to relate practical experiences that the students may use on a job, things like interviewing hints, camera angles and story angles.
Look for details that make a story resonate, like when a reporter found a flood victim who had lost his teeth, he said. Smith recalled how he stopped hearing cars honking in New York in the days following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack, and when they started up again he knew things were headed back to normal.
“Does this sound like fun?” he asked. “Does this sound like something you want to do for the rest of your life?”
He gently scolded the students for not putting free time to good use and assigned them to find a story within a four-block radius of where they sat.
“I didn’t realize that the fire had to be lit,” he said. “I thought you had your own lighters.”
For some of the students, the course was “truly a life-altering experience, and that is what education is all about,” said Debora Halpern Wenger, the Ole Miss professor who had accompanied the students to New York.
It may have been life-altering in a way that 21-year Allison Croghan, a graduating senior from St. Louis, will never truly know. She’s scheduled to start a job next month as a television reporter at KSN/KODE-TV in Joplin, Mo. If she hadn’t been in New York for Smith’s class, she said she would have been in Joplin searching for an apartment when Sunday’s deadly tornado hit the city.
“I’ve learned so much,” she said. “Today he was talking to us about interviewing techniques, stuff that you can’t learn from books. It’s stuff you have to learn from experience or talking to someone who has done it.”
Smith’s devotion to his home state, and university, is evident in the signed footballs on display at his Fox office. At some point he said he wanted to do more for his home and teaching could be a way to do it.
He’s learned from the students, too, particularly how they use social media as a window to the world.
“It reminded me of the roots of the thing that we do and has just been incredibly inspiring,” he said.
David Bauder/The Associated Press