UNC senior lecturer Jock Lauterer is on a two-week Fulbright to China to give lectures and lead seminars at three Beijing universities. He is the author of “Community Journalism: Relentlessly Local,” 3rd. Ed, and most recently was the project manager for Prof. Chen Kai’s groundbreaking 2012 book, “An Introduction to Community Newspapers in the U.S.”

 

Saturday, May 26, 2012

During my two weeks in China I gave eight lectures — and saved the best for last. Or I should say the best was saved for me until the last. My third of three presentations at the Communication University of China (CUC) attracted a loyal cohort of 16 kids, most of who attended the first two talks and wanted more.

After telling the story of how Prof. Chen’s new book “An Introduction to Community Newspapers in the U.S.” came to be, I read aloud greetings from editors from the 10 newspapers that Prof. Chen featured, including the Carrboro Citizen, the Daily Tar Heel, the Chapel Hill News, the Spring Hope Enterprise, the Washington Daily News, the Fayetteville Observer, the Sanford Herald, the Pilot of Southern Pines, the Shelby Star and the Carolina Weeklies Group in Charlotte.

After hearing the greeting from editor-publisher Ken Ripley of the Spring Hope Enterprise, the student broke into spontaneous applause. Here’s what Ripley said: ”

Dear Chinese friends —  for that is how I view all fellow journalists no matter what country — I am excited that you want to learn about community journalism and what we do in America. So much has changed in recent years. The technology. The business model. The expanded means of communication made possible through the internet. Even my small newspaper in a small town is affected by these changes. But one big thing has not changed and I hope never changes — our mission is to help our community, whatever size it may be, to see itself as it is and as it can be; to be a positive force for good on behalf of all its people; and to be a channel of honest information and open discussion through which caring people can determine their own affairs and the civic life of their community no matter what kind of government they have. As you begin, or continue, to practice your chosen journalism profession — big city, little town, internet blog — I hope you will love what you’re doing, and, if you love the people you serve, great things will be ahead in your future. You may or may not make much money, but you will be rich in all the ways that count. Best wishes from Spring Hope, North Carolina. — Ken Ripley

 

Next, I opened the floor to Q and A, and their questions were heartbreakingly sincere and naïve:

• “When you say ‘community’ what is that?”

• “How can we report when we might get fired for what we do?”

• “ How do you in the U.S. get your government permit to start a newspaper?”

• “Do you think China needs community newspapers?”

• “How much local news is too much local news?”

And my personal favorite: “How can I start my own community newspaper?”

I finished by reading them an e-mail I received earlier this week from my Chinese colleague, Prof. Ren Li of Chongqing, who wrote wisely: “How I wish I could have attended your discussion with those bright young students. I agree with you that press freedom is fundamental to community journalism. Although community journalism presents something small, it’s just the essential to build and hold democracy in a small/and any community. The basic goal of my work here in Chongqing is actually to help build a strong and healthy awareness of public participation from the local people living in a community. I am afraid it’s the other side of press freedom.”

Then Li concluded, “I agree the teacher’s remark that China needs you. What I want to add is that China needs more of its own Chinese teachers who can take actions to deal with their own problems.”

Keying on that last thought, I ended the lecture by telling “my kids” that China needs….THEM! And I can see in these bright eyes and eager faces that my seeds have landed on fertile ground.

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Earlier I had passed around my Journal, inviting each of them to write me a quick personal “Hey, Jock,” note expressing their reflections. By the amazed and delighted looks on their faces, no professor had ever done that for them, had ever asked THEM individually to reflect, to be recognized as individual human beings, worthy for who they were without question or condition.

I also asked them to pose for a class photo, and I got their email addresses and send out the picture, which also made an impression on them.

These two weeks have been like pouring water on parched desert ground and watching the flowers bloom. As a conclusion, you can judge for yourself if seeds weren’t planted. Here’s a sampling (many signed with their English names):

“Dear professor,

I’ve received your e-mail and I’m really very happy. All I want to say is THANK YOU. Thank you for sharing your wisdom with us. Thank you for your sincere care to us Chinese students beyond national borders. Your academic passion and personal charisma touched me deeply. Actually, you taught me so much in that wonderful class….I will always keep you in my mind and pray for you in China.

your Chinese student, LiuKecen

“You have opened a window for us,” wrote Lou, followed by, “I’m interested in CJ. And I have learned lots of knowledge from your lecture. I’m looking forward to keeping in touch with you, my dear professor.”

“I do believe that your lectures have broadened my mind,” writes Crystal, who adds, “I’m waiting for more.”

Sheena wrote, “You have inspired me to think twice about the existence of community newspapers.”

Grace wrote, “What you introduced to us has really given me a sense of reviewing my major as a responsible person.”

“I cherish your lectures a lot,” wrote Adam, a serious-looking lad who sat in the same front row seat for all three lectures, “What you have left me is not only a description of journalism, but also details about American democracy and the way U.S. citizens live their lives.” And after the first class, he spoke with me in private, asking what kind of GRE and TOEFL scores he needed to get into grad school at UNC!

Liu Chang wrote: “Dear Prof. Jock, Thank you so much for giving us such wonderful lectures for last 2 weeks and opening a window for us to let the sunshine in. I will always remember what you said in the class that China needs us to change and everyone can make a difference.  Although after the second class I went to you and seemed very (depressed) when talking about problems in China, I still hold Hope in my heart…” and she closed with, “At last, keep hope alive!”

 

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