Professor Douglas Alden, who is teaching feature writing in the Hunter Journalism Program this fall, may have had an extensive career in the media industry. But his eclectic journey started as an aimless college student.
“I have never known what I’ve wanted to do,” acknowledges Alden. “I think in the back of my head, I wanted to be a writer but didn’t think that I had the talent or perseverance to become one.”
In fact, Alden dropped out of school after experiencing writer’s block so intense that, he jokes, “I couldn’t leave you a note that said ‘Call me back in five minutes.’ ”
‘Seek out really talented people’
After dropping out, Alden started working at ABC News, where he soon became a producer, first covering national politics and then sports.
It was his subsequent immersion in writing and his work with great writers and journalists like famed sportswriter Dick Schaap, with whom he ultimately partnered as producer for two decades, that gave him the motivation to go back to college at the age of 26, and to find his voice and confidence as a writer a few years later.
“The most important thing you can do professionally is to seek out really talented people to work with and learn from,” said Alden. “There may be some individuals who can do things very young on their own, but in general, it’s all about connecting with people who just are flat-out better than you, and who will be honest with you about your work.”
From sports producer to entrepreneur to educator
After graduating college, Alden worked for NBC Olympics from 1990 through 1993, where he directed, wrote and produced over 30 short features for the 1992 Barcelona Games.
Later, from 1994 to 2000, Alden was a founding member and senior vice president for programming and production at Classic Sports Network (now ESPN Classic).
Alden has worked in a variety of fields as a digital consultant for companies such as HBO, Showtime and ESPN.com. He also co-founded Motionbox.com, a personal video-sharing service and community website in the forefront of the user-generated video revolution. It was later on sold to Hewlett-Packard.
Alden believes his success is rooted in being an honest artist who isn’t paralyzed by fear and failure. “I’ve had spectacular failures, but it’s never bothered me,” Alden said. “It’s easy to get consumed by the low grade you got and not by the reasons you got it.”
Alden says that learning from his mentors and peers, as well as running and starting companies, has fueled his long-time ambition of teaching inside the classroom.
For his upcoming feature writing class, Alden aims to teach it as you would an upper-level literature class. “The essential way to develop your writing is through writing,” he explained. “But you can’t become a great writer until you dedicate yourself to studying great writing.”
With the help of talented and award-winning journalists, novelists, photographers, and filmmakers who will be visiting the class throughout the year, Alden hopes to teach his students to “understand that they should be aiming for greatness, and how to achieve it.”