For Aron Pilhofer, solving the journalism industry’s problems from inside a news organization can feel like “putting out brush fires rather than thinking about the whole forest.”
Pilhofer, The Guardian’s current executive editor of digital, said he will have a different perspective when he joins Temple in November as the School of Media and Communication’s James B. Steele Chair in Journalism Innovation.
This position was created through a $2 million endowment from the Wyncote Foundation, a Philadelphia-based philanthropic organization. The chair is named after the Pulitzer-winning Inquirer journalist James B. Steele in honor of his pioneering use of data analysis in journalism.
Pilhofer worked at The New York Times for nine years as a computer-assisted reporter and editor of interactive news. Since moving to The Guardian in 2014, Pilhofer has formed multiple teams dedicated to developing innovative forms of journalism.
One of his teams, Guardian Visuals, produced The Guardian’s first virtual reality project, “6×9.” The project uses 360-degree video to simulate the experience of solitary confinement.
Carolyn Kitch, chair of the journalism department, said she considers Pilhofer’s digital journalism skills invaluable to students.
“The kind of journalism he’s been doing and the type of digital innovation that he has been involved in, both at The New York Times and at The Guardian, represents changes in the field that we think are important for our students to learn about,” Kitch said.
Pilhofer said he considered teaching at Temple two years ago, but decided to take his current position at The Guardian instead. David Boardman, the dean of SMC, said he resumed talks with Pilhofer earlier this year.
“[The endowed chair] wasn’t specifically targeted that it could only be Aron, but because Aron had emerged as our top candidate previously, we were able to offer it to him,” Boardman said.
Pilhofer said the endowed chair’s focus on innovation meshed well with his journalistic interests.
“[The] endowed chair [is based] around the kinds of things that I’m interested and passionate about, which is business models, entrepreneurialism within journalism and story forms,” Pilhofer said.
David Haas, a member of the Board of Directors for the Wyncote Foundation, said he was excited to help Temple hire a professor like Pilhofer.
“When David [Boardman] said we might get Pilhofer, I said, ‘Holy cow, let’s see if we can do that,’” Haas said. “It just seemed to me … a perfect thing to add to [Temple’s] resources.”
Haas and Boardman both serve on the Board of Managers of the non-profit Institute for Journalism in New Media, which was created in January 2016 by H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest, a Temple trustee. The institute owns the Inquirer, Daily News and philly.com.
Boardman said the Institute “has a lot of appeal for Aron in terms of bringing together local media and Temple in exciting ways.”
“The Institute is very interested in having people like Aron, of that talent and background, in the ecosystem here,” he added.
In addition to his special projects, Pilhofer said he is teaching a course focused on entrepreneurial journalism in Spring 2017.
“There are certain advantages to being in a very senior role at a very large news organization like [The Guardian], where you can have impact on an individual newsroom,” he added. “But what excites me about this opportunity at Temple is … to have a role in helping to train, inspire, teach the next generation of not just journalists, but those who are in the advertising industry, marketing, PR, you name it.”
Ian Walker can be reached at email@example.com.