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Department: Communication and Digital Media
Title: Associate Professor
Best Office Artifact: Student-made campaign sign
Dr. Jonathan Bruning feels fortunate that he is able to combine his passion with his career. A life-long sports enthusiast, Professor Bruning explored a career in television journalism before joining Carthage in 1999 and began working to develop a sports media curriculum for the Communication and Media Department.
We spoke with Dr. Bruning about how the addition of sports media has impacted CDM at Carthage. He also discussed why it’s important to pursue what you love and how to make the most of your opportunities in order to find your passion.
How did you get into communications and sports media?
I got into communication because I participated in debate in high school and college. I had a communication professor as a debate coach at Gustavus Adolphus College, and he encouraged me and showed me the way.
While I was in graduate school at the University of Kansas, I started working at a local television station in their news production department. I was doing graphics and running the teleprompter, but they also covered high school and college sports. Pretty soon I was working in the production truck for sports broadcasts doing graphics and replay work, as well as doing some news and sports writing.
How has your work in sports media influenced your teaching?
When I came to Carthage, there was no sports media in the curriculum, so it’s something I had to develop over time. I started by creating my sports journalism study tours. We went to Europe to report on soccer and California to report on baseball. I also developed a Sports Media class in CDM that covers sports marketing, sports PR, sports journalism and careers in sports organizations and media.
I’m a Contributing Editor at Soccer Stadium Digest where I write about soccer architecture and facilities. Doing the actual work of a journalist on a regular basis — research, interviews, writing — is critical to teaching it effectively. I’m able to apply the lessons I learn in the field directly to the classroom.
What are some unexpected paths in your career?
It took me a long time to figure out that I could combine my love of sports with my career as an academic. There is typically a line drawn between leisure pursuits and academic pursuits, but I feel lucky to have combined the two. I think sports are an important element of popular culture, and a rich area for potential careers in communication, so I’m happy to have brought that to Carthage. I feel fortunate that my department at Carthage has been flexible enough to allow me to pursue that.
I’m working on two soccer projects now — an academic paper on how new MLS stadiums are an expression of intercultural communication and emblematic of the state of American soccer, and a screenplay about Manchester United soccer legend George Best, which just got accepted to a Sundance screenwriting workshop. I never thought I could combine my love of soccer with an academic and creative career - that has been both unexpected and very much appreciated.
How do you push students out of their comfort zones?
I think actually my classes are successful largely because it puts students in their comfort zones. I teach media, film, social media, sports media — these are the things that students are interested in day-to-day, outside the classroom. If we want to engage students, get them excited about research, make them effective thinkers and communicators, then these subjects are ideal. I think if we can tap into students’ passions, they learn more. I find the subjects I teach endlessly fascinating, and I think they are subjects students are passionate about as well.
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“I think if we can tap into students’ passions, they learn more. I find the subjects I teach endlessly fascinating, and I think they are subjects students are passionate about as well.”
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What is your favorite class to teach?
For pure subject matter, it would be Sports Media. That’s my biggest passion and my professional focus. For format, I really enjoy teaching Senior Seminar. In that class, I get to work with students individually on a project of their choosing. I led the Oxford study abroad program at Carthage years ago, and their model is much different. At Oxford, students historically worked with a professor on-on-one, going into great depth through a series of readings, in-person conversations, and writing projects. For me, that is the greatest model of education, and Senior Seminar is the closest thing we offer. I enjoy working with a student over the course of a semester on a project they are passionate about. I learn something new every semester in that class.
What skills and hobbies do you have that students may not know about?
In addition to writing about sports, I still like playing them. I play tennis and golf in the summer, and pond hockey in the winter. I also referee youth soccer in the fall and spring.
I live in Milwaukee with my wife Dani Schmidt, a Carthage graduate and veterinary nurse in the cardiology department of a local animal hospital. We have two rescue dogs — Lincoln and Ladybird — and a rescue guinea pig named Alice Paul.
I enjoy volunteer work and giving time to things I care about. I’ve had a little brother in Big Brothers Big Sisters for seven years. We started hanging out when he was in third grade and he’s now in high school. I’ve also volunteered at the Milwaukee County Zoo and the Milwaukee Film Festival.
I spend a lot of my time thrift shopping, reading modern fiction, or non-fiction about polar exploration, maritime or Native American history, and eating at Milwaukee’s amazing array of great restaurants.
I also like movies and television a lot. I belong to Milwaukee Film which has a monthly members screening and a yearly festival. I recently re-watched “The Sopranos” series and I just started watching ”Atlanta” from the beginning.
What advice do you have for students going into the Communication and Digital Media programs?
I would suggest taking classes beyond the required classes. Take classes from all of our great faculty. I really think that our department has quality faculty in every class, and each of them can offer something incredibly valuable. I think we sometimes get too focused on meeting graduation requirements rather than exploring the amazing curriculum. I would suggest trying something new, whether it’s digital video, photography, web design, screenwriting, sports media — we offer so many interesting classes. I think it’s important to not get too focused on the bare minimums of major requirements. Experiences matter more than what’s on your transcript.
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“…we offer so many interesting classes. I think it’s important to not get too focused on the bare minimums of major requirements. Experiences matter more than what’s on your transcript.”
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I would also suggest an internship as part of any major curriculum. It can be the thing that gets you a job after graduation, and at the very least it gives you an important glimpse into a potential professional career. In graduate school, I had an internship as a news producer writing for the local television evening news. As you can see, I decided that wasn’t the career for me. It can help you get what you want, but it can also help you avoid what you don’t want.
Is there anything you would like to add about your work or the Communication and Digital Media Department?
I’m excited to be part of a new program on campus, the Faculty Athletic Mentor program. I’ll be the FAM for the women’s soccer team starting next year. We’re still figuring out everything we’ll do as part of that program, but I’m happy to be involved. Coach Ian Wilson and his team, and Athletic Director Michelle Manning have been incredibly warm and enthusiastic about connecting Carthage’s great athletic program more closely with college faculty. One thing I’m excited about that we’re discussing is the opportunity for me to do play-by-play announcing for the women’s soccer team next season on the live stream of all home games. My dream job is to be an English Premier League play-by-play announcer, so maybe this is the first step.
— Interview by William Dowell ’22