A University of Nebraska-Lincoln professor wasn’t expecting to walk away with the phone number of international country music star Garth Brooks the night before his concert at Memorial Stadium in August.
Chris Graves, UNL assistant professor of journalism, attended Brooks' press conference Aug. 13 and the concert the following night to write a story for “Nebraska Quarterly,” the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s alumni magazine.
During the press conference, Brooks mentioned he studied journalism while in college and mentioned he was worried current state of journalism.
“I told him that I, too, am concerned about journalism and democracy and jokingly suggested that he should come and take one of my classes because we talk about these issues,” Graves said.
For her article with Nebraska Quarterly, Graves interviewed Brooks and eventually, she asked him a question that he said he could answer properly after the show.
Brooks agreed to follow-up and gave Graves his cell phone number. During one of their follow-up conversations she asked if he’d be willing to talk with and be interviewed by the students in her Fundamentals of Editing and Reporting II course.
“YES!!! I’m in!!!!”
Brooks' visit wasn't just for fun. Students were required to ask Brooks questions and take notes for a deadline-writing assignment. Students had one hour to write their story.
Graves said Brooks' wide-ranging conversation was challenging for the students, who had to determine what was newsworthy.
"They did a great job with a difficult assignment,'' Graves said. "I am so proud of their work."
Meredith Gamet's family introduced her to Brooks' music when she was young. The sophomore journalism major was and remains a huge fan.
“Interviewing Garth Brooks is something I’ll never forget,” Gamet said. “My biggest takeaway from our conversation was the importance of the ‘give and take’ in an interview and now that I’ve interviewed Garth Brooks, I feel so much more comfortable as a reporter.”
Many of the students' questions centered around the Lincoln concert and how his tour was put on pause because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but Graves opened up the conversation asking him a question relating to his background as a journalism graduate at Oklahoma State.
“What makes a good interview?” Graves asked.
“It’s a pretty simple rule, treat other people the way you want to be treated,” Brooks said “And choose your words as if the people you’re talking about are standing right next to you.”
Good journalism has always been important to Brooks. He encouraged students to be the type of journalist who people look to for the facts.
“People value sincerity, you’re reporting facts for the people who weren’t there to witness what’s happening,” Brooks said.
At the end of the interview, Brooks drew a connection between entertainers and journalists and reminded students that they have the opportunity to change the world.
“If there’s anything I want you to remember from tonight, it’s know how important a job taking on journalism truly is,” Brooks said.
Graves closed the evening asking Brooks if he wanted to be part of the College of Journalism and Mass Communications efforts in continuing to teach young journalists the importance of accountability in journalism.
“Count me in,” he said.