8 OVER 80: Joe Saltzman, 80

8 OVER 80: Joe Saltzman, 80
Joe Saltzman

Joe Saltzman, 80

Company: USC Annenberg School of Journalism And Communications

Title: Professor

Joe Saltzman began his career as a senior writer-producer for CBS owned-and-operated TV stations in Los Angeles. His ground-breaking social-issue documentaries and news specials have won more than 50 awards, but Saltzman loves academic life more than news deadlines. In March, he began his 53rd consecutive year of teaching at USC Annenberg where he is director of the Image of the Journalist in Popular Culture, a project of USC Annenberg’s Norman Lear Center. Saltzman lost his son David to cancer 11 days before David’s 23rd birthday. He and his wife Barbara have turned personal tragedy into empowerment: The children’s book David wrote as a senior project at Yale, “The Jester Has Lost His Jingle,” has become the basis of their family charity the Jester & Pharley Phund, which supports children with cancer.

Why not retire?
It’s a cliché, but the trick of never having to work a day in your life is to always do something you love. I spend the bulk of a seven-day work week on my research, having just finished a five-year study of “The Image of the Journalist in Silent Film, 1890-1929.” I’ll continue to stay at USC Annenberg as long as my teaching ratings demonstrate I haven’t lost a beat in the classroom.

What are the biggest changes you’ve observed in your workplace environment? 
When I was a student at USC, and when I first started teaching here in 1967, USC was not a very good university. Most of the students were too busy drinking, playing cards, going to football games and having an active social life. But in the last few decades, USC has become one of the great universities in the world with one of the brightest freshman classes I have ever experienced — and they get better every year. The one drawback: (Today’s students) don’t seem to have the same passion for journalism as students of yesteryear. Too many are more interested in sports and entertainment journalism than in political, environmental, health and science journalism. There are grand exceptions, however, and USC Annenberg graduates are still bringing great honor and prestige to our school.

Do co-workers seek out your experience and knowledge?
I’m often called upon to answer questions about the history of the school. I have discovered no one ever likes hearing, “We tried that years ago, and it didn’t work.” So, I generally forget the past and look to the future.  

How do you keep your work fresh and interesting?
I taught my first class at USC in 1967, and I still remember looking at those eager, smiling faces waiting to see if this CBS hotshot had anything of value to teach them. And earlier this year, before the pandemic, I saw those same eager, smiling faces waiting to see if this old professor had anything of value to teach them.  

What do you do for fun?
I have great fun in the classroom and in my research, in talking with friends and family, in being with my wife, Barbara, of 58 years. For me, fun is defined much differently than it is for most people. I don’t take vacations. That’s why I don’t retire — I’d be doing the same thing, so why not get paid for it? And I do watch more television than anyone else I know.

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