Vitals: communication director,
Boy Scouts of Central Texas
UT Degree: Bachelor of Journalism,1994
Senior Fellows moment:
challenging the professor about the
meaning of a photograph
Challenging career moment:
Doing TV news in Chicago during 9/11
Interviewed by Sameer Bhuchar, Journalism, Senior Fellows (2012)
Senior Fellows alumnus Charles Mead (1994) is the communications director for the Boy Scouts of America’s Central Texas chapters. He visited with Sameer Bhuchar, a fellow journalism major and soon-to-be alumnus of Senior Fellows, sharing some key moments from his time in the program and his career in broadcast journalism and public relations.
Where do you live now and how long have you lived there?
I live in Austin and I have been here for six years. Prior to that, though, I did plenty of travelling around the country while I was still in TV, which involved my first TV job with KXAN here in Austin, and then working for a series of FOX-owned and operated-stations in Kansas City, Chicago and Houston. Houston was my last TV market and then for professional and personal reasons I decided I needed to change, and I was lucky enough to find the opportunity that I have now.
What is your job title and duties?
I’m the communications director for the Boy Scouts of America region called the Capital Area Council. So I’m essentially in charge of all the marketing and PR that takes place for scouts in Central Texas. I’ve been in this position since roughly 2005.
What has been the most challenging thing about your current position?
-- Charles Mead
Well, I think overall, and this probably applies to both industries I’ve worked in, it’s dealing with the growth of media that has taken place over the last 15 or so years now. The world from a communications standpoint doesn’t look anything like it did when I first left UT and started working. Now there are so many different channels, so many audiences that you have to try to first just identify. Then you have to figure out how it is you’re going to communicate to them. Speaking from my television background, that issue is figuring out what the best role is for local TV journalism as well as what stories should be covered and how to cover them. That extends into my career choice now where it’s so difficult to try and find the most effective ways to communicate the key messages, the key initiatives of your organization and to figure out who you need to be talking to in the first place and what are the best ways to reach them. And once you figure that out, you have the challenge of deciding — and this especially applies to my work now dealing with a nonprofit — how you marshal resources and get the funds and personnel necessary to do the best job you can.
Yes, I’ve also noticed that problem. From a journalism standpoint, there always is that consideration of how can I maximize my visibility but still deliver quality stories.
Are there other experiences – professional or otherwise – you’ve had since leaving UT that you’re proud of?
From the TV world, it was a unique -- and I certainly hope a once-in-a-lifetime experience of being in the newsroom in Chicago on Sept. 11, 2001, watching everything unfold. I was put in the real time situation of trying to really put all the pieces together of exactly what is happening and figuring out the best ways to tell that story in an environment that is going to be wall-to-wall life for 24 hours, for several days, and do it with some context that gives people an idea of exactly what is happening. I’m certainly proud of the work I did that day as both a producer, as a writer, and in some cases even there as an executive supervisor as well. I was proud to be a part of team that was asking all the right questions there when it was happening and making the best possible decisions that I could and living up to my responsibility as a media member. I think that was an experience I’ll always carry with me, and it was probably the most emotionally charged experience I have from working in television. Also my wife was working in Chicago in a building that was called the Aon Center at that time. It was built nearly identical, almost eerily so, to resemble the façade of the World Trade Centers. So obviously you had rumors starting to fly that day, and of course you start to pick up on those things. And there was one in particular where the word was that there was another plane headed to Chicago that had lost contact with controllers and it was headed to that Aon building. So your job only becomes that much more difficult, because you have those kinds of considerations and challenges in front of you, so you’re forced to fall back on the training you have and try to do the best job you can, but at a certain point your humanity kicks in. It was an odd, odd moment when I had to pick up the phone and tell my wife ‘here is what I know, and you need to go home for the day.’
In my current job, I have been connected back to the essence of what I love the most, which is telling stories. My job allows me to constantly tell stories about people who are doing really tremendous things in their community, about kids who are setting goals for themselves and accomplishing them and growing up into citizens. Those things are just absolutely an encouragement and it recharges my batteries seemingly every day.
-- Charles Mead
What were some of your favorite Senior Fellows classes and teachers?
It was “The Social Function of Photography.” The class dealt with iconic images and the main points of discussion throughout the class looked at how important images are and their underlying messages. We learned that the images you put out there, whether it be in art or in journalism, all carry a message and you have to be aware of that. I remember that class distinctly because it was the first time while I was at Texas where I felt empowered enough to raise my hand and challenge an assertion made by a professor [J.B. Colson]. One time in particular, there was an image on a slide show, and it showed a boat near water. The professor was saying that the image was a classic icon of the idea of birth, and I couldn’t quite wrap my head around why that might be, and decided for whatever reason that I would challenge that. I said ‘get out of here, that seems to be a bit of a reach.’ I suppose that now with a little more experience and sage, I can look at water and understand how it’s obviously critical to life. Going back I can say that maybe I hadn’t thought as deeply as I should have about that subject and its potential. But I think in being a student for life, which I believe all good journalists are, you continue to mull over things, and the more context you have, the better decisions you make. That was one of those moments made possible specifically by my involvement in a Senior Fellows class, because I was thrust into an atmosphere where challenging a premise was expected. And I think ultimately that is what we are all hoping the college experience gives us. We want the ability to think for ourselves and be able to branch out on our own and really begin to decide who we are and what we stand for.
When was the last time you visited UT?
Besides off and on for a few football games, I haven’t done a specific campus visit for anything in a while. I did take my daughter to Explore UT two years ago and she enjoyed that. I am excited to see the new Belo Center’s facilities. I hope it gives the students that much more hands on experience with digital media.
Do you have any advice for current Senior Fellow students?
I guess the best thing I can say is just slow down. Try to soak in and enjoy this chance to think. The world is so fast paced, and there are so many demands placed upon us professionally, to make ends meet, to pay the mortgage. I wish I gave myself more time to marinate, stop, and really soak up the world around me. So while you have that time there, take it, and enjoy and use it, because it’s only going to become more and more precious as you get older.