John Scanlan discovered his lifelong passion for photography as a teen, leafing through photos of photos from the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War in Life and Look magazines.
Five decades later, Scanlan has enjoyed a rewarding career as a photojournalist. Recently retired, he took the time to apply his experience in earning an online master’s degree from the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism.
“I didn’t go into this with a tremendous amount of confidence,” Scanlan said. “I didn’t know whether I had what it took.”
As it turns out, he did. Scanlan received his master’s from the University of Missouri in December, 42 years after he first enrolled at MU.
As a young man, Scanlan had earned a bachelor’s degree in literature before enlisting in the Army, where he served as a photographer. In 1972, he left the military and planned to attend grad school.
A commercial photographer recommended he try MU. “He told me it was the best school in the country for photojournalism,” Scanlan said. “It was the best advice I could have received.”
At MU Scanlan studied under Angus McDougall, who instilled an intensity and passion for photojournalism in his students.
“He let us know that if we cared about the profession, we were going to have to fight and argue and proselytize others in the industry to prove that we knew what we were doing so that our voices would be heard,” Scanlan said.
Before he could finish his master’s project, however, Scanlan found work as a photojournalist through MU alumni at The Coffeyville (Kansas) Journal. He went on to become photo editor at The Greeley (Colorado) Tribune before accepting an offer in 1986 to become a picture editor at The Hartford (Connecticut) Courant and, eventually, director of photography.
At every step of his career, Scanlan found classmates from Mizzou and other alumni who also had studied under McDougall. “We shared the same values and trusted each others’ judgment,” Scanlan said.
Over the years those alumni, and McDougall himself, encouraged Scanlan to finish his master’s degree. So when Scanlan retired in 2011, he enrolled in the online master’s program from the MU School of Journalism.
Despite his abundant experience, Scanlan was apprehensive. But MU staff and faculty gave him the support he needed. “Being able to talk to someone or email someone and have them answer your questions makes you think, ‘Gee, I can really do this,’” Scanlan said.
In his master’s project, Scanlan examined how digital media can boost or hinder narrative. His research focused on long-form digital storytelling best embodied by The New York Times’ story “Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek,” by John Branch.
Scanlan dedicated the project to his MU mentor. “McDougall wanted you to give your all to the profession because he thought that’s what it would take to be successful.”
McDougall’s passion continues to influence and inspire new generations of MU journalism students, Scanlan said. “It’s still there, whether you get it online or on campus.”
Upon the recommendation of his master’s committee, Scanlan wants to turn his master’s project into a university course in visual narrative.
If you’re a working journalist and want to update your knowledge while expanding your professional network, consider an online degree from the University of Missouri. Earn your master’s in health communication, interactive media, strategic communication or media management.
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