Don't be afraid of change

By Cathy Geistkemper
J Alumni News staff

Lewis D’Vorkin has had 11 jobs in 25 years in the journalism business. It’s a good thing he doesn’t resist change, “You need to be willing and open to change. Change is good,” D’Vorkin told journalism students at the Kappa Tau Alpha initiation breakfast April 14. The College of Journalism and Mass Communications inducted 28 new members into its chapter of the national honor society. D’Vorkin received the Will Owens Jones Distinguished Journalist of the Year Award.

D’Vorkin’s most recent job — as of early April — is vice president of content strategy for AOL Interactive Services. The position is so new, D’Vorkin said, he was not sure exactly how to explain it. Mostly he will be in charge of content for the Welcome Page, the first thing 22 million people see when they log on to AOL.

D’Vorkin’s journey from the print media to cyberspace began when he attended the University of Iowa where he worked at the college newspaper The Daily Iowan. The publisher at the time was Will Norton Jr., now dean of the College of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Nebraska. Norton encouraged D’Vorkin to become the editor of the paper.

“I was immediately impressed with how focused he was,” Norton said. “He was very content-oriented, very word-oriented. He was a tough, tough editor of The Daily Iowan.”

After college, D’Vorkin got an AP Dow Jones internship in New York City for four years as a copy editor for economic business news for a wire service. After that he worked at the New York Times for four years, Newsweek magazine for four years and the Wall Street Journal for one year.

“I was always an editor,” D’Vorkin said. “I prefer it.”

However, his next job took him to Washington, D.C., as a writer for the introduction of a television show. After six months he returned to print media. He worked for Ziff Davis, a publisher of computer magazines, for four years, redesigning magazines. It was there that he got the idea to start his own magazine.

“It was called Virtual City — a cyberspace magazine — and it was funded by Newsweek,” he said. “But that only lasted a year. After four issues, it folded.” He wound up at Forbes magazine in 1997 and was in charge of deciding the packaging and covers for the financial magazine.

“I always say, ‘If you have a cover story but don’t have a cover (photo), you don’t have a cover story,’” he said.

Even though leaving Forbes means entering into a constantly changing cyberspace environment, D’Vorkin said he looked forward to the challenge.

“It’s new-found freedom,” he said. “It’s certainly more exciting because it changes by the day. There’s never an opportunity to be bored. And moving to Washington from New York was appealing as well.”

But D’Vorkin said Internet was not the only thing changing. Journalism as a profession is changing, too.

“From my personal experience there’s never been a better time to be a journalist,” he said. “A lot has changed. Journalism today is big business, and there are more jobs than qualified people.”

Other advice he gave students at the Kappa Tau Alpha breakfast:
—Surf the Internet on a regular basis. “See what’s different. See what businesses are talking about. Understand how online works. It’s vital.”
—Watch the local news. “Your local news is now the same as the national news.”
—Keep up-to-date on the latest technology.
—Be prepared for job interviews. “Make sure you’ve done your work. Know the biggest issues of the company. At Forbes, I always asked, ‘What is the difference between Forbes and Fortune?’ It’s because I want to hear your opinion.”
—Get a job, then start looking for another one. “Just like athletes are free agents, workers are free agents, too. The notion of staying at one job for 25 years is not the way it’s done anymore. Be willing to change.”

Most importantly, D’Vorkin said, journalists must always be aware of the fine ethical line in journalism.

“That line is constantly moving,” he said. “Online is moving faster than TV, which is moving faster than print.”

Once a person knows how not to cross that line, D’Vorkin said, “you will feel really good about yourself. You’ll make great contributions.”