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The Morse Code of Journalism

Benjamin Morse, former digital content director for Marvel Entertainment and future TEDx speaker, is transforming students into content creators.

People  |  May 23, 2018  |  By Afsha Bawany
man with superhero drawing on wall behind him

Benjamin Morse, a visiting professor of journalism, is helping create a digital content agency in the Greenspun School of Journalism. (Josh Hawkins/UNLV Creative Services)

Editor's Note: 

Benjamin Morse will be a featured speaker at TedxUNLV on June 22, 2018, at the UNLV Judy Bayley Theatre. Tickets are now on sale.


When your favorite superhero helps land you the job you’ve wanted since elementary school, you may feel like a character in a comic book.

But that’s exactly how Benjamin Morse’s career unfolded in real life.

“I wrote an essay in the fifth-grade about what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote two things: become an NBA basketball player or work at Marvel Comics,” said Morse, a visiting lecturer at the Hank Greenspun School of Journalism Studies.

In his junior year of college, Morse created the comics section of the website 411 Mania. His review of his favorite speedster superhero “The Flash” piqued the interest of Geoff Johns, a DC Comics writer for the red-suited hero. They met up at San Diego’s Comic-Con and that led to Morse’s first paying job writing about comics for Wizard Magazine.

Flash forward to 2007 when Morse landed a job at Marvel Entertainment. He spent 10 years running digital content for Marvel.com. He focused on increasing publicity for diverse superheroines and superheroes, promoted the growing Marvel movie industry, created social media content, and co-hosted the podcast “This Week in Marvel” with Ryan Penagos, who was the co-creator and remains the co-host.

We talked to Morse about launching a new digital content agency for journalism students to advance their multimedia skills and why you may want to add comic books to your summer reading lists.  

What drew you to comic books as a kid?

This may sound corny — it was that idea of doing the right thing and following a moral code of ethics. It helped me subscribe to the way life ought to be. I grew up in 80’s and there was stuff happening in politics. It was kind of nice to read a comic book and see that the good guys are eventually going to win — hopefully, they will win. I was the kid who wanted to see the good guys win and see the right thing happen.

Sounds like readings comics had some influence on your road to journalism.

I always liked writing, getting to the truth of the matter. I love of the ethics of comic books and at the heart of every comic book is storytelling. Journalism is about exposing the truth, too. In both, you’re trying to impart some lesson on the reader. You’re collaborating with artists, and editors, and working on producing the content. As a journalism professor, those are the things I can impart — that team storytelling approach.

Tell us about the digital content agency you’ve been working on at the journalism school.

Students are learning about what it takes to be a content creator. Since I’ve been here, I’ve worked with students who are creating written content, graphics, videos, learning about social media management, analytics, and advertising. We’re collaborating with the journalism school’s stations KUNV Radio and UNLV-TV to help clients in the Las Vegas Valley.

Students have worked with community clients including the Rotary Club of Green Valley and the United Way, as well as campus unit such as TedxUNLV, the Lee Business School, and College of Hospitality. That’s what I love about the students. They are so enthusiastic and motivated to do things to for experience.

Part of creating content is looking for new ways to tell a story. How have you embraced creativity in your career?

Marvel has the most well-known characters. But some characters are 60 to 70 years old. Instead if doing just public relations and designs to buy comics, I thought “Let’s make it more fan-interactive, and turn the website into to an online magazine.”

You’re always looking for something new in journalism and you’re looking to crack the surface and looking to do something people haven’t done before. It’s about getting creative. Someone could hand you a product to use on a social media platform, and you have to find a way to make it work.

At Marvel, we created a virtual community and I co-created the podcast, “This week in Marvel.” It was hugely successful and on i-Tunes and ranked as one of the top 20. That was important to grow our social media, talk to fans, and get them involved. We had 320 episodes and never skipped a single one. That was recreating something that was lost.

What was lost?

When I was a kid, you could talk with everyone in the store about a particular comic. The problem nowadays is that, while movies based on comics are successful, there is a kid who may see the “Iron Man” cartoon, watch the movie, and buy the toy, and play the video game but never realize it’s based on comic book.

So much of my character and who I am came from reading comics, so for people not read them is tragic. 

If we’re just starting to get into comics, what should we add to our summer reading lists?

Marvels: a fully painted, four-issue limited edition that came out in 1994. It’s about the Marvel universe with every character — Spider Man, Thor, Captain America. It’s the required textbook for being a Marvel fan.

X-Men: This is a comic about minorities, oppression. The heroes are mutants and hated and feared. They serve as an analogy for race relations and sexual orientation. There are so many parallels to today. As a kid, I got the sense that “this is about these people being different and doing the right thing.” That was a big lesson. It’s required reading and one of the best franchises.