Gretzky’s—and COM’s—Formula for Success

By Tom Fiedler (’71)

A reporter once asked hockey legend Wayne Gretzky what distinguishes a good player from a great one. He replied: “A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.”

That statement can be a metaphor for the College of Communication.

Based on COM’s decades-long history of graduating leading communication professionals, I don’t think I’d get any argument by stating that the College has been good at what it does. We can trace COM’s roots to 1914—nearly a century ago—when BU was among the first universities to offer courses in journalism and advertising. BU was also a pioneer in offering curriculum in radio, television and public relations. So it’s no wonder that our reputation is good.

But if we are satisfied with simply being good, if we are content to just keep doing in the future what we’ve done in the past, we’ll be like the “good” hockey player who plays where the puck is. How does this relate to COM?

Our goal, like Gretzky’s, is to be great at what we do. That means we need to move from where we are to where the field of communication is going to be. And no other school in our field is better positioned than COM is to achieve that. We offer a unique and broad blend of communication disciplines working together in one college, while most other universities scatter the various programs among two or more schools. COM exemplifies the axiom that the whole is truly greater than the sum of its parts.

When the digital revolution (and that’s the right word) exploded atop us, even the oldest and most respected schools of communication—COM among them—were thrown back to the starting line of an entirely new race, one that demands entirely new skills. The reputations earned by educating generations of students in the ways of the “old” media don’t guarantee success in the Internet age. Success will go to those schools that best adapt to this new world.

This challenge may create collective heartburn among many well-known institutions invested heavily in traditional media. But for COM, I believe that this epochal change creates an opportunity to leap forward, a moment to be seized. Indeed, I believe COM can become an acknowledged leader—maybe the leader—in educating the 21st century’s communication professionals.

How? By doing three things:

  1. Aligning the COM curriculum and faculty in the direction of change (“skate to where the puck is going to be”).
  2. Making strategic investments in signature programs where we have advantages over rival schools because of our faculty’s talents, the University’s size and our enviable location.
  3. Building the facilities to enable these programs to prosper and to reflect the excitement of the future.


In the COM strategic plan, “Pathways to Greatness,” which I discussed in a previous column, the first of six areas of strategic focus declares the goal to be: “Establishing COM as an innovator in the areas of emerging media and in understanding its impact on society.” In short, we’re going to anticipate change and prepare for it.

One way we’re doing that is by creating a new division within COM linking the three departments that comprise the College: Journalism; Film & Television; and Mass Communication, Advertising & Public Relations. If you think of those departments as three adjoining rooms in the same building, the new Division of Emerging Media Studies would be the building’s second story spanning all three rooms. It will be where we teach the most cutting-edge communication courses, those that analyze and utilize the latest “new thing” in getting information from one source to another. Research by students and faculty in this division may lead to that proverbial “next new thing.”

Students intending to join the traditional communication professions—journalism, public relations, advertising, filmmaking—would continue to be well educated in the fundamental and enduring practices of those professions through the courses in their “homerooms.” But they’d also be exposed to the latest interactive technologies through courses “upstairs” in the new Division of Emerging Media Studies.

On my three-step list, Nos. 2 and 3 are self-descriptive. It makes sense for us to play to our strength, which for COM has been in preparing students for the professions by giving them plenty of hands-on experience under the guidance of faculty who are experts in the field. Wherever we’re good, we’ll get even better.

To succeed, we’ll need state-of-the-art studios, interactive labs, multimedia classrooms and meaningful internships. And to get those necessities, we’ll need your help—your ideas, your time, your engagement and, yes, your financial support. When we put all three principles together, we’ll have a professionally focused, state-of-the-art, forward-skating COM.

And, as Gretzky said, we’ll be great. ■

Dean Fiedler can be reached at or 617-353-3488.