Remembering a Poynter NewsU Hero

6:42 PM Jan. 25, 2013 — by Howard Finberg

Paul Pohlman is one of the unsung heroes of Poynter’s e-learning project, News University.

Like many heroes, Paul did not see his role as being heroic. Or even very important. Yet I’m convinced that Poynter NewsU would not have been as successful without Paul’s quiet guidance, enthusiastic support and good humor.

Paul died recently. It was a sudden and very sad end.

He made a difference when it came to Poynter’s future for many reasons. Because Paul was perceived as an analog person in a digital world, his vocal support of e-learning was critical. He was a master of creating the seminar so when he pushed at me (and Poynter} for more e-learning, more things digital, it matter. At times, he pushed harder at me than I was willing to go. He was right, of course.

Maybe it was the chocolate or other food that seemed to be in abundance around the e-learning department that attracted Paul. He liked hanging out, even briefly, with producers and others in the department. Maybe it was the energy and humor of the young folks. Probably it was the chocolate.

What made Paul so important to the development of NewsU was his understanding and insights into teachers, such as Poynter’s faculty, and teaching. He had an excellent sense of the art and science of developing a curriculum, especially one that would serve adult learners.

As a teacher, Paul pushed and pulled at his participants to come up with the answer, to work through the problems. He disliked the idea of PowerPoint, at least when I joined the Institute. He would make fun of the use of slides. When I taught with him, he didn't say “no” to PowerPoint; he just asked, “What else can we do? And can we do it in small groups?" Paul was devoted to small-group work—he believed the power of teaching was in the room and within the participants.

But as the world changed, so did Paul’s vision of how important e-learning was going to be to Poynter and its participants. He was always suggesting an e-learning program to the hundreds of calls he received from folks asking for Poynter training.

Paul will be missed for other reasons: his organizational abilities; his abilities to "nail down a date" as he walked the Institute with his paper calendar and pencil; his desire to "move along" when a meeting became tedious and faculty members started to ramble.

He was generous with his time, including when it came to planning e-learning courses. Even if Paul didn't understand all the technology under the hood of NewsU, he understood the value of good learning objectives and trying to get at the heart of what we would teach. Paul would happily join these planning sessions. He contributed and brought wisdom into the room. And I never heard Paul fall back on expressions like, “in my day.”

Paul didn't really look back. He didn't talk about the past as if it were a golden age never to be repeated. I would like to think that approach to life is what attracted him to e-learning and to the future he saw for this form of Poynter training.

Sometimes, for effect or in seriousness, he would say Poynter should stop doing in-person seminars and teach only online. It was bold. And it mattered because it was from Paul.

We’ll miss him for his humor most of all. He could make you laugh. And he could laugh at himself. If he were watching us mourn him today, he would eventually say “let’s move along.”

I will, Paul. But not before we honor you.