Going international

The emails arrive daily, sometimes more than one. Someone from South Africa, India, Singapore, Finland, the United States or some other country has just searched for me on Google or Bing, they say, and found one of my papers on Academia.edu.

Today’s is from Zimbabwe.

It’s almost always the same paper: my January 2015 publication, “Revisiting the UNESCO debate on a New World Information and Communication Order: Has the NWICO been achieved by other means?” It was published online six months before it appeared in print. And that’s when the daily emails started.

Most thrilling to me: In the past 30 days, people from 17 different countries have visited my page. People from 32 additional countries have visited since I joined Academia.edu a few years ago.

Upon entering academia after a career spanning 25 years in journalism, then moving from Canada to the U.S., I naturally expected to lose my audience — or any large audience. A handful of people would read my articles, I told myself and my journalist friends. I would no longer be a quasi-public figure.

This is really different from what I expected, and it’s thrilling. I know I’m not alone in this, either. How many of you are experiencing similar things since the arrival of internet analytics?

I do realize that many of my former colleagues, journalists as well as academics, are getting exposure and recognition they never would have anticipated before the internet. This trend has really picked up since I left my newspaper job in 2000. Today, journalists actually know where their readers come from and which articles they prefer.

A few details, for those who haven’t experienced Academia.edu as yet. I was not allowed to post the actual journal article on my Academia.edu site, which is open to the public, but the journal’s rules did say I could post the draft submitted for peer review. In the case of the NWICO article – but not most others I’ve had published – there was very little difference after the peer reviews because I’d submitted it to a conference beforehand and made significant revisions already.

Since the NWICO paper, as I call it for short, was published online in June 2014 by Telematics & Informatics, the copy I posted has attracted hits from all over the world to my Academia.edu site. That paper alone has had 179 views in eight months. I guess the journal has analytics too, and I should get them! This does not include the people who read it in the journal or download it from an academic database. It is, in my mind, an indicator of interest.

Another of my articles has had 75 hits and, because it was based on my dissertation, it attracted readers to that prodigious tome, which I naturally assumed would be read by about a dozen people. The dissertation is up to 114 views, as of this writing. I realize that these are just “views” and not people sitting down to read the entire thing. But it’s more attention than I ever expected it to get.

Never would I have anticipated that people from such distant places would read my articles. Or that I would become internationally known — not just in the English-speaking world, but far beyond that — even if it’s only to a few scholars who care deeply about the UNESCO battles from the 1980s.

I assumed I was retreating from public life into the ivory tower. What a surprise to find our readers are more far-flung and diverse than ever!

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How do I love you Poynter? Let me count the ways.

The Poynter Institute is celebrating the 10th anniversary of NewsU, the online courses it offers, often free of charge, to student, professional and citizen journalists. They asked those of us who use NewsU to write something about how it has transformed us, or our careers. I had lots to say and I share it here — you might see it quoted elsewhere, by Poynter, because I wrote it for them first. But I can imagine that they have many, many journalists writing testimonials about what NewsU has done for them, so you might never see mine! Just so you won’t miss it, here it is:

The amazing thing about Poynter is how many different ways it helps me as a journalism educator. I can list six different levels at which I use NewsU and Poynter’s other work to make me a more effective educator and mentor to journalists at different stages of their careers..

First, I deal with a lot of beginners, and they use the “Be a Reporter Game” to start out. It helps them to appreciate all that’s involved in reporting. Later, they can get extra credit for doing the Clean Your Copy exercises. These help me to reach students who often don’t listen in lectures and need hands-on exercises to learn.

Second, I work with more advanced reporters, in student media and my advanced courses, who use the law course, the Clean Your Copy course, the editing courses, and others.

Third, I am active with the hyperlocal paper in our community, written by citizen journalists, and in the Society of Professional Journalists, where I often meet people seeking to start a freelance career in mid-life. Poynter courses are ideal for these people because they offer a variety of starting points and endpoints — people’s goals and experience differ widely.

Fourth, I use the webinars and advanced courses myself, to stay on top of the latest techniques and technology. This year, I had to start teaching video in a multimedia course, so I attended a couple of webinars and took a full Poynter course in video journalism to prepare. I cannot thank you enough for having flexible, online courses and webinars that I can fit into my schedule as needed. By the way, the just-in-time video training has been extremely helpful. The course is going well! My students seem to love the fact I remember the challenges of learning what they are learning. I even use some of the bad videos I shot, early in the course, as instruction materials.

Fifth, I also want to thank Poynter for its work in ethics, where Kelly McBride and others have been at the leading edge in research and practical advice for journalists working in a changing field.

Sixth, Poynter provides wonderful research on what employers and educators believe is most important for student journalists to learn. Every year at the annual conference of journalism educators, the AEJMC, you are there with the information we need to keep abreast of what we need to teach in a rapidly changing field.

For all these reasons I say Thank You Poynter!  

If anyone feels inspired by this to support the Poynter Institute, as I do with a small monthly donation, here’s the page that shows all the ways you can do that.

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Journalism education and democratic practice (redux)

I was at a wonderful, free-ranging discussion last week at the Kettering Foundation in Dayton, Ohio, of the role of journalism and journalists in fostering democracy. This blog entry by another participant (and they were all terrific – I felt honored to be there) sums it up really well. We’re not talking about reforming Congress or any of the other institutions of democracy. We’re talking about encouraging people working together to solve community problems. That’s a whole different thing, and much more achievable. Read on to learn more:

Emergent Journalism

Last week at this time I was in Dayton, Ohio as part of a Journalism Educators Research Exchange group organized by the Kettering Foundation, which is headquartered in Dayton for a discussion about ensuring that college journalism students have a better grasp of how journalism contributes to democracy.

When I was in j-school more than three decades ago, it was an article of faith that effective journalism and functioning democracy went hand-in-glove. It was the post-Watergate era, and respect and recognition for journalists as the Fourth Estate (or sometimes, the “fourth branch” of government) was at its height.

The worlds of government and journalism both have changed dramatically since then, and what was once an article of faith is now seen as a point of derision. Journalists operate in the public interest, in service to democracy? Hah!

Which makes it all the more important that Kettering is…

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Remembering Hunter S. Thompson

A student of mine this week created a sports story that included some creative flourishes drawn from here and there on the internet. GIFs, photos, tweets and the like were included, and they were relevant, but outside his own actual coverage of the event. I had to make a decision: Do I accept this work? (Note: He did consult me in advance about whether I would.) Or do I force him to stick to the traditional rules of journalism? In other words, should I stamp out his creative coverage, full of fun, yet also serious, of a basketball showdown between John Carroll, where I teach, and arch-rival Mount Union?

I decided to accept it with all its creative flourishes, in memory of this article by the late, great Hunter S. Thompson. As I told my student, if Thompson could mix fantasy and fact while covering real events for the likes of Rolling Stone magazine, who am I to prevent you from trying a few creative flourishes in this one article? As long as you understand that it’s not generally accepted in mainstream media, nor is it generally accepted in my courses without permission, I’m going to allow — maybe even encourage — his rather wonderful approach to a somewhat mundane assignment. I can’t share that assignment with you here because it’s student coursework, but he will have the option to share it after I send him my feedback.

In honor of this, I’m linking to the blog Grantland and a post by Michael MacCambridge, which reproduces the first famous example of Gonzo journalism by Hunter S Thompson, which also happened to be a sports story. “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved” appeared in 1970 in an alternative publication called Scanlan’s.

I should mention, as a warning, that Thompson’s story uses the N-word in a couple of places as it would have been used in Southern discourse at the time. There is also insensitive use of religious words in swearing.

However, I love this post for the notes at the beginning and the end about how the story came to be the way it was, the initial reaction, and Thompson’s own decision to continue writing this way because, as he put it:

“I was sure it was the last article I was ever going to do for anybody,” Thompson said in a 1974 interview with Playboy. “Then when it came out, there were massive numbers of letters, phone calls, congratulations, people calling it a ‘great breakthrough in journalism.’ And I thought, ‘Holy shit, if I can write like this and get away with it, why should I keep trying to write like the New York Times?’ It was like falling down an elevator shaft and landing in a pool full of mermaids.”

So my question to reader is, if a student of yours got creative in a journalism assignment, what would you do?

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What a week in journalism

Many have commented about the series of devastating events that hit American journalism last week: the deaths of two outstanding journalists (Bob Simon, formerly of CBS, and David Carr of the New York Times) and the suspension of NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams for, shall we say, apparently stretching the truth. That happened awhile ago, but things got a lot worse for Williams last week, when he was suspended. As is often the case when the media mess up, Jon Stewart was there to point out how and why this was a problem. And so the last piece of bad news last week, at least in the U.S. journalism world, was that even Stewart seems to be deserting us by leaving The Daily Show.

For Canadians, like myself, there was additional bad news, reported in The Independent, that our prime minister and foreign affairs minister apparently did nowhere near as much as their Australian counterparts to secure the release of our Al-Jazeera journalist detained in Egypt, Mohamed Fahmy. On top of that, John Baird, who has since mysteriously resigned as minister of foreign affairs, apparently told the Egyptians that if Fahmy was deported to serve out his sentence in Canada, he wouldn’t really have to do it — again, this is according to Fahmy — we’re not sure how he knew that. If this is true, we can understand why Egypt decided not to allow his deportation to serve out his sentence in Canada! The current situation is that Fahmy, along with fellow incarceree Baher Mohamed, who is Egyptian, has to undergo a new trial.

We who live in countries where press freedoms are taken seriously have to stand up for the  Al-Jazeera guys, who were just doing their job, reporting on the situation in Egypt, when they were arrested and thrown in jail by Egyptian authorities more than a year ago. The international pressure has been somewhat successful so far. The Australians managed to get their guy, Peter Greste, released and sent home.

Despite all the bad news last week, there was one ray of sunshine in the news from Canada: The Sun News Network, a Fox-like propaganda machine masquerading as news, has shut down after nearly four years on the air. I guess we can be thankful for small mercies.

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It’s not over for me

This post by Mike Zacchio really inspired me to write my own reasons for being a journalist. And why, even though I’ve stopped writing for media, I am still and always will be a journalist.

As my students know, I can be “inspiring” on the topic — their word, not mine. Journalists make a difference. Sometimes it’s a good one. That’s worth trying. Journalists tell stories. That’s worth doing, especially if they’re stories that no one else sees. Journalists express important truths. Not always, but sometimes we get a few words in the right order, as someone famous once said, and it can nudge the world toward positive change. However, I don’t see it as the journalist’s job to change the world. It’s our job to describe it. Let other people change it, if they feel so moved. I have been happy just to have the job of describing it. People miss things all the time, often because they don’t have access to them. I can see things — and so can you — that others miss. And I can get access that others may not be able to get. Writing those experiences is really worth doing.

I never thought I would become a teacher, but teaching journalism and media literacy are the best work I have ever done. As I told a colleague last week, I have never been happier in my life.

Today, journalism is open to everyone and I really like that. I want all my students to think of themselves as potential journalists, even if they don’t feel the urge to go into the field professionally. I teach because I want them to have the skills should they ever feel the urge to publish something — perhaps because they just can’t stand NOT to publish it. They might get an overwhelming feeling that the world needs them to say what they have to say, or tell the story of someone else who is saying or doing something interesting, valuable, impressive or even terrible. They might do it because the world needs to know.

That’s why I do it — training others to become journalists, but also training them to think deeply about journalism and what can be done to save it. As someone once said (and I did look this up but could not find the author’s name), “I was a good player, but I can be a great coach.” Imagine, having the ability to send hundreds of new journalists into the field. I can do that! I don’t require that they go for official “jobs” in the declining mainstream media. I only hope they end up with the skills to see and tell stories that need to be told — and publish them. They don’t need a media job to do that.

I do care if they get jobs when they want them, and I’ll keep working with local media organizations to help them do that. I had so much fun working for a daily newspaper, I would not want to deny that to anyone just because I’m disillusioned with the MSM. It’s my students who will someday have the chance to improve the mainstream media, after all. Yes, I fear they could end up feeling like Leonard Cohen when he wrote, “They sentenced me to 20 years of boredom, trying to change the system from within.” One thing about journalism — it would not be boring! Twenty years of frustration, more like. But my 20 years were worth it, to be able to do this.

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#Ferguson : My Thoughts on an American Flashpoint

This may help you to understand what’s going on in Ferguson. Many thanks to Michael Twitty for writing it.


“…It was the corroboration of their worth and their power that they wanted, and not the corpse, still less the staining blood.”  James Baldwin, “To Be Baptized,” from No Name in the Street, 1972

I have been asked by many people to take a close look at the Michael Brown shooting case in Ferguson, Missouri and offer my opinion.  I felt it best to take a step back and really absorb all the circulating currents of opinion and matters of fact before I made any personal pronouncements.  This is my best attempt to answer that call, hopefully soberly, responsibly and with as much restraint as I can muster in the face of this deeply American tragedy.  This is inherently a blog about food and food culture, but anyone who regularly reads this blog understands that it also is a blog about social and cultural justice.  It is clear to…

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