THE BACK STORY

Returning for his fourth time in as many years, UNC-CH Senior Lecturer Jock Lauterer is documenting a whirlwind two-week teaching gig to four cities in China where he will be advising community newspaper start-ups and helping to launch a community journalism program at a university in Foshan in the southern province of Guangdong. His latest book, the revised fourth edition of “Community Journalism: Relentlessly Local,” was published last summer in Mandarin. This blog is written expressly for his photo and community journalism students back at UNC-Chapel Hill, with whom he will be Skyping later in March.

I am an idiot.

For a photographer to lose his/her camera is the unpardonable sin.

I left my beloved Canon G1x camera sitting on the chair in the main lobby of the hotel for a good five minutes…until on the 10th floor, as I got off the elevator, I realized what I had done.

Flushed hot, heart racing, I hustled back down, thinking, well, there it goes…and at least I brought a back-up camera…and what a FOOL I YAM.

But there… in the lobby stood a hotel manager, holding my camera, looking around expectantly — as if for me…. When I spotted him and retrieved the camera, I thanked him like profusely, flooded with a mixture of relief and embarrassment.

And then, as if fated, I turned to the comments from my UNC journalism students, their first response from my first blog post.

So now I will speak directly to my kids: I can’t tell y’all how your words buoyed up Mr Joke. You made my day.

Here are some of the choice comments.

(Editor’s Note: Others were excellent too. But, as I am sure you can appreciate, those more sensitive questions will be more appropriately addressed in class upon my return.)

 

Stephanie Zimmerman

“After reading this blog, I thought long and hard, and I really cannot imagine living in a country without a free press. It’s hard enough to trust most media sources, as well as the government, in the U.S as it is. I would just have no hope of understanding what is really going on in the world if the government had as much control of the press here as it does in China. This is why, Jock, I think the work that you are doing is incredibly important to Chinese journalists. I think that for Chinese citizens to understand what is going on in their individual communities is an essential step toward understanding what is going on in their country and the rest of the world.”

 

Jennifer Tietnguyen:

“…Can you blog about the questions you receive from Chinese journalists? I think these questions are really interesting, and are really telling of the thought process these journalists are going through as they try to… engage? For example, the students who didn’t know the difference between “citizen” and “resident.” I am interested in those kinds of curiosities and differences, as well…AND, I think you’re super right about the irresistibleness of the challenge journalism is facing in China. It’s pretty cool the way all of this fell onto your lap, but I guess this must feel like a bit of destiny; the “innocuous” nature of fate. Whew. No pressure or anything, Jock!”

 

From Mary Yount

“I really enjoyed hearing about how your involvement with China began. What you’re doing is awesome, not to mention downright COOL to get to immerse yourself in a completely different culture. They’re learning from you, and you’re learning from them and forming awesome relationships along the way. I am excited to hear/read about your trip as it progresses. Also, I would like to propose that our class start calling you ‘Mr. Joke.’”

 

Katie Reeder

“I am also interested to see how you do things in China. I can’t fathom having to be so careful about what you print…So how do you work with community papers to tell the truth while having to worry about stepping on people’s toes? Is it even possible to balance the two? What do you tell the Chinese people when there’s a story that deserves to be told but makes the government look bad? How do you reconcile the American values of “the right to know” with the Chinese values which often shut that up?”

 

Chris Powers

“Thinking about how a country like China without free press can embrace community journalism is difficult to wrap my head around and it seems like you’re on the front lines of it out there Jock. One element of the post that really struck me was when Professor Chen Kai mentioned that her students did not understand the difference between a “resident” and a “citizen.” While in a semantic sense they have a similar meaning, each word connotes different ideas. A resident implies simply implies a person who lives in a specific place. Being a citizen, however, requires an amount of civic engagement. In the context of community journalism, this is an essential distinction. If no cultural idea of civic engagement exists in a region, how can the idea of journalism meant to support and benefit community development exist?”

 

Brian Griffin

“I’m interested in reading more of how to teach community journalism in a land without free press. From my American perspective, it seems close to impossible to teach a practice that I learned was based on “an obligation to the people” and being the “fourth estate” of government…. Finally, laws aside, I’m intrigued to learn a bit more about ethics and motivation in Chinese journalism. Obviously, your friends seem to be in the industry for the right reason… Keeping an eye on the government, highlighting local accomplishments, informing the people. How does this sense of duty carry? Is journalism just another job over there?”

 

Caroline Hudson

“I think my favorite part of this blog was how you never expected to end up in China. All of this came to you by chance…But I can see how you have found a deeper aspect of China and one that is often forgotten: the voice of its people and what happens to this voice when it is censored…I think every country should have a free press, and the thought of a government’s involvement in the news being told sounds like a sin to me. With this in mind, I can see how important your work is to the future of China’s communities. Community journalism has already made a huge impact on me, and I can only imagine the impact it is making in China.”

 

Parth Shah (a graduating senior)

“This week I’ll be buying my one-way plane ticket to India. My lofty desire is to take an undetermined amount of time off from the United States and immerse myself in the culture of my forefathers. While I’m there, I want to get a job writing. Maybe for a newspaper, maybe for a website. All I know is that I want to write. In this class we’ve talked a lot about parachute journalism. Reading about your experience of visiting China, of lecturing to journalists about the beauty of community reporting… it’s comforting. You were able to touch a lot of people and make connections regardless of the barriers you faced.  Going back to India, I’ll be called an NRI. Non-Resident Indian. This is a term that people use with a dash of scorn. It’s a belittlement. Indian Americans are treated as softies, people who can’t handle the rough and tough lifestyle of the eastern hemisphere. When I go abroad, I hope to take some of your lessons with me. India doesn’t have the best reputation when it comes to journalistic integrity… lots of articles are paid for and bribery runs amok. I want to experience this. I want to fight it and I want to bring my background of small scale reporting with me and put these skills to the test.”

Kegan Lowe

“…Above all, I hope you have safe travels. And I hope that one day I will be as passionate about a topic as you are community journalism and I will end up chasing that passion around the world and find the same amount of fulfillment as you have.”

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THANKS, KIDS, I NEEDED THAT!

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