Craig Duff: Why “All Hope is Not Lost”

The editorial in this past Thursday’s edition of The Jambar, the student newspaper of Youngstown State University, began this way:

Even out of the most depressed of cities, there are examples of why all hope is not lost.

Youngstown State University alum Craig Duff is one of these examples.

YSU students have long had an inferiority complex. It was true when I was there and it still hangs like the gray clouds of March over the finely landscaped campus, in the middle of a town that is the shell of a former industrial powerhouse.

I often joked with my Ive League students at Princeton that my undergrad school was in the Poison Ivy League.

But I wanted to strike a much more positive tone this week in a visit to the campus, speaking to students and the public about the state of the news media, and conducting workshops with local journalists on multimedia skills. After all, I have much to be grateful for.

I began my public talk with a notion one of my favorite professors used to say at the end of every class: “Keep the faith.”

That teacher was Richard James, whose powerful baritone was the voice of local radio news and ads for the Home Savings and Loan company. He was in radio for so long that when you walked under a bridge with him, you couldn’t hear him talk.*

Dick James saw potential in me I didn’t see in myself until much later. He encouraged me to go to graduate school, and nudged me out of the rust belt. I landed in the Bible Belt, and grew confidence in the Masters in Film program at the University of Texas, where I found other significant mentors and was recruited for a bottom-rung job at CNN Headline News (long ago, when it was a half-hour news service, not a platform for Nancy Grace’s outrage).

The rest is history, or at least the tiny slice of history that is my bio.

Now I am at the mid-point in my career, where I’m reminded of Graham Greene’s line about reaching a level where you’re judged by what you produce, no longer by your promise.

And when I think of YSU, I think of so many others who have found success beyond its urban confines. In my graduating class at YSU, there were five of us who had all gone to high school together (in a class of 118) in Vienna, Ohio. We all graduated with honors and sat together at YSU commencement. Each of us went on to get a higher degree. One attended Harvard for an MBA, another to medical school; one got a masters in computer science, the other a PhD in Physics.

We are all now successful, middle-aged careerists: a journalist, a business analyst for a major firm, a practicing physician, a top-ranking executive and a professor at a university.

Because I have worked for well known media companies, I get a lot of attention when many others are more successful (and a lot richer) than me.

But if experiences were currency, I told the audience the other night, I am richer than many people I know. This blog, though it only chronicles the past few years, is plenty of evidence of that.

The op-ed continued:

Duff’s example is encouraging on two levels. First is the example he sets for young journalists, who are constantly inundated with bad news about their field. Rather than abandoning journalism for other endeavors, Duff has adapted with a changing medium. Journalism isn’t dying, it’s just struggling to find its new identity in multimedia.

I do hope the writer is correct on that one. Even those of us who have adapted and manage to thrive in this business are unsure of its future.

The other example he sets holds a broader appeal to everyone at YSU. Following his bachelor’s degree, Duff continued his education and has been able to find success.

Youngstown doesn’t have to be a curse.

I’ve learned in life that most curses are self-imposed. And they can be self-fulfilling prophesies.

But so are paths to success.

Just keep the faith.

* That’s a Steven Wright joke we co-opted way back when.

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