Friday, May 18, 2012
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.”
Last night’s lecture was a complete blast and success, by anyone’s standards. First I should say that I also met with two of Prof. Chen’s frosh English classes, for two hours, and did my very best there too. The first one was small and responsive; the second one larger and guys tried to hide out in the back and become invisible, much like UNC. Are we not the Family of Man?
I told them all about the differences I had noticed between our cultures – that, and the similarities – all the time hitting the theme of How Alike We Really Are, how we may be different but we are More Alike Than We Are Different. Again, the Family of Man. And Woman.
Then to the main event last night, my intro to Community Journalism in the U.S.
Curiosity is alive and well here, after all. The classroom held about 60 undergrads who dressed much like American college kids, and they were for the most part attentive, responsive and acted like they were genuinely interested and downright fascinated at times with the big bald American with the bright red tie and his crazy ideas.
I tried to tell them about the strength of community newspapers in the U.S., how these smaller papers had weathered the recession and in many cases were thriving, and that these papers were NOT vanished at all. In fact, there were so many start-ups going on in the U.S., that no one really has a handle on those numbers.
I think I’ll call it the community newspaper “birth spiral.” Or how about the community newspaper “birth watch.”
After the presentation, I was besieged for autographs and business cards. There is hope! Left feeling like a rock star.
INTO THE DEEP END
TODAY, however, was another matter: “We have met the enemy and the enemy is us,” comic strip sage Pogo Possum was supposed to have said famously.
So today I met the – I won’t call it the “enemy” in the classical fighting sense – but I surely met the opposition.
At a conference arranged today (billed as exploring the growth and development of the community press in China), I was the guest of honor, out-of-town “expert” and star witness for the defense. My job was to make a case for bringing community journalism to China — and making that case to a table full of high powered big media folks who were skeptical in the least and resistant for the most part to the notion.
One publisher from a large paper in a city south of Beijing listened impassively and then responded with a straight face that he thought government control of the media was absolutely a good thing and totally necessary to maintain order in the society, otherwise society would be in chaos. Furthermore, his paper was making lots of money and he saw no need to change their news balance to local.
Besides, he added, people don’t care about their local government.
At that, I had to gently take off the gloves, and say something pretty outrageous about freedom of the press and the need for an informed citizenry, which I know fell on deaf ears.
I doubt I made my case very successfully, for everything had to be done by tediously, by translation, one sentence at a time: I talked, Prof Chen translated, I talked some more, Prof. Chen translated again, and so forth.
Meanwhile, across the table the grim-faced big city metro publisher just stared at us.
But on the positive, in the background, behind the editors, sat their underlings, mostly younger women — and they were SMILING at us, and nodding their heads in agreement.
And the best part about the whole thing was that the moderator kept referring to me as “Mr. Joke.” Which, after today, is about how I feel. Because if you want to do something this risky and bold, you better have a thick hide and a sense of humor.
In fact, today’s encounter has inspired me to re-title this whole adventure as MR. JOKE GOES TO CHINA.
Onward and upward