The joy of teaching

wsu-classroom

The classroom where I taught my  first courses at Washington State University Vancouver.

I know, I know. My last blog post was self-centered. Hard to avoid when talking about the many great opportunities that have come my way since leaving the newsroom and embracing the college classroom as my new workplace.

Today it’s all about the students. Those young (and not-so-young) men and women who enroll in your course expecting that you’ll have something of value to teach them. You’ve got a tremendous responsibility as an educator and you don’t want to let them down. So you put in the long weeknight and weekend hours, trying this and tweaking that and hoping you’ll see signs of making an impact. And when it happens, nothing could be sweeter.

***

During a 40-year career that spanned eight newsrooms in three states, I had the privilege of working with some great colleagues; of meeting and interviewing some fascinating people; of helping hundreds of people jump-start their careers; of adapting to rapidly changing technology that transformed every aspect of the way news is gathered, produced and distributed.

As a college instructor for the past nine-plus months, I’ve had the opportunity to take all that experience and find ways to share it with my students so they can become smarter consumers of modern media, and more aware of the economic and ethical challenges facing journalists and the companies that employ them.  All of this work is aimed at increasing the media literacy of a new generation of college students, a responsibility I don’t take lightly.

During the past academic year, I’ve taught three classes at Portland State with a total enrollment of 150 and two classes at Washington State University Vancouver with about 40 more. With class sizes ranging from 18 to 70 and class starting-times ranging from 8 a.m. to noon, one goal was just keeping students awake. Seriously.

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Nice way to welcome the new adjunct instructor at PSU.

Those early-bird morning classes were a challenge for many students — especially those who work and/or have families — because it meant getting up early to catch public transportation or commute by car from the ‘burbs or beyond. Wintry weather at the start of the year didn’t help. Likewise, a midday class that led into the early afternoon hours could be a challenge for the sleep-deprived whose caffeine had worn off.

But that was a minor issue. More often, I found the vast majority of students engaged, eager to learn and genuinely curious, and many of them not hesitant at all to question or take issue with a point I had just made. I loved that aspect, going back and forth as one adult to another and having others join the conversation.

Though I used a textbook in each class and designed most of my lectures around them, it was during the class discussions that I sensed much of the real learning took place. When ideas are explained and challenged, facts are given meaning, and dots are connected, that’s when greater understanding comes in the form of context and insight.

During the course of each of my communications classes, I tried to demonstrate to the students what I know from experience: that journalism is an honorable profession dedicated to the pursuit of truth. We get criticized by people on both ends of the spectrum for multiple perceived sins — that we are biased, that we are pushing an agenda, that we have little or no regard for facts. There are even some, from the Tweeter-in-Chief on down, who believe we literally make s*** up.

Before you accuse a news organization or an individual journalist of bias, consider your own, I urge my students. All too often, what a reader dislikes or disputes reflects his or her own opinions and life experiences, or lack thereof.

Journalists do make errors. Teachers make errors, too — as do doctors, lawyers, mechanics, engineers and retail clerks. And each of those professions, like journalism, has its bad apples. But that’s no reason to dismiss the good intentions and good work of the vast majority in any of those fields.

***

One of the most challenging and rewarding aspects of teaching is trying to connect with a diverse cross-section of students. I’m happy to say that task is made easier by knowing that, by and large, students at both campuses come to class without a sense of entitlement, unlike many young people of privilege who enroll at private, liberal arts schools.

PSU is a commuter school nestled in the heart of downtown Portland. WSU Vancouver has no dorms. Both schools attract a lot of folks from the working class, many of whom are transfer students from community colleges.

In their brown, black, yellow, red and white faces, I see myself: a first-generation college student at a state college, the son of parents who had no opportunity to attend high school. I commuted for two years before moving into an off-campus apartment with roommates, paid my way through school with scholarships and a part-time job, and did better academically in college than I did in high school.

wsu.beth nakamura

Students on both campuses love having guest speakers like Beth Nakamura, an exceptional photographer at OregonLive.com who brings working class values to her work.

Older students. The student bodies at both PSU and WSUV have a much greater proportion of non-traditional students than do most four-year schools. Looking out at my class, I see plenty of folks in their mid- to late 20s and early 30s. Two of my students were in their 60s. Others were as young as 19.

Many of my students are parents themselves, some with toddlers, others with teenagers. Those experiences often add humor or wisdom to our discussions. Some have learning disabilities requiring special accommodations. During one class last fall, a student (a young mom) had a full-blown seizure. One student called 9-1-1, while others helped me comfort the student until paramedics arrived.

Working students. A majority of students worked — most part-time, but some full-time, even while taking a full course load. Many students worked in retail at places like Best Buy, Starbucks and Sephora, while others had work-study jobs around campus. A recurring issue for some was having to miss class because an employer would schedule them for a shift with little notice. As a result, I made it a point to be flexible about deadlines for class assignments.

Athletes. I had three football players, two soccer players and two softball players in my classes. I would have liked to see them compete, but purposely didn’t attend any games for fear that doing so might influence me in grading their work. I was happy to be asked to sign off on progress reports that kept the athletic department apprised of how each student-athlete was doing in class.

Demographics. PSU is the most diverse of Oregon’s seven public colleges and universities. I love that aspect, all the more so because of the large number of international students. Roughly 1 in 5 students in my PSU classes was born outside the United States. They’ve come here from Japan, Laos, China, Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines, Brazil, Mexico, Kenya, Ghana, Russia, Ukraine, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

Beyond race and ethnicity, there is a good cross-section of students from rural and suburban communities, as well as cities; a handful of home-schooled students and military brats; a number who are openly gay; and several men and women who’ve served in the Armed Forces. It’s an honor to teach the veterans, knowing they are on the same path as my youngest son, who just obtained his bachelors degree with the help of the G.I. Bill.

Role model. Like it or not, I realize I am a role model to many of my students. Several have told me they’ve never taken a course from a Latino professor or high school teacher. In one class alone, I had six Latino/as, including a grandmother from Salinas, California, where my parents met as children of migrant farmworker families, and two who arrived from Mexico as undocumented children. Having that cultural connection is pretty special.

Bottom line: All in all, this gig as an adjunct instructor has been a great experience. The pay is notoriously low, especially when you factor in the countless hours outside the classroom. Grading a stack of essays can take far longer than you ever imagined, given the less-than-stellar writing ability of many students, especially those for whom English is a second language.

But nothing is more rewarding than seeing a student struggle and then blossom. There is a profound joy in knowing I’ve had a role in providing greater understanding of a subject and contributing to a greater sense of personal confidence.

I’ve seen the results of four Instructor Evaluation surveys now — two from PSU, two from WSUV. Happily, the students have given me very positive marks along with suggestions for improvement: Be more organized. Trust yourself more instead of relying too much on the textbooks.

One student wrote: “It help me a lot in the sense of how I now view media. I have learn so much throughout the course from guest speakers and of course the material. The assignment were somewhat difficult in the sense that my writing skills are not as good, but he was very good at providing me with great feedback on all of my assignment.”

Spelling and grammar flaws? Yes.

But the sentiment? Priceless.

Previously: A rookie no more

A rookie no more

OLive

A few of the notebooks and other items, including a pica pole, that I used to keep at my desk in The Oregonian newsroom.

As the month of June comes to a close, it’s a good time to reflect on the good fortune that has come my way since I began teaching as an adjunct college instructor last fall.

In the nine-plus months that have passed since I walked into a classroom on the Portland State University campus and faced my first group of students, one opportunity after another has presented itself. I’ve said yes to one thing, only to have another thing come my way, and then another and another.

Never could I have imagined I’d be in this place so soon after making the transition from veteran journalist to rookie college instructor. But I’m grateful, even if I have to pinch myself from time to time.

***

I taught a single class at PSU during the fall, winter and spring quarters, each one lasting 12 weeks. This summer I’m teaching two four-week sessions back-to-back. The first class began this week. The second one starts in late July.

Meanwhile, I taught two communications courses across the river at Washington State University Vancouver during the spring semester from January to mid-May. Combined with the single PSU class, that meant I was managing three courses at once for most of the 16-week term. It was a stretch, requiring two days a week on each campus, but I managed.

This summer I’m teaching a single class in Vancouver.  Yesterday marked the halfway point of the eight-week course. I gave the midterm exam, welcomed a guest speaker, and met with each student individually after class in the fresh air outside the classroom.

PSU shirt

You can’t teach at Portland State without a branded T-shirt, right?

Looking ahead to the 2017-18 academic year, both campuses want me back. WSUV has me lined up to teach one class in the fall and one in the spring.

PSU wants me to teach a single class during the fall and winter quarters (nothing in the spring) and become the internship coordinator for the Department of Communication.

On top of that, a key contact in PSU’s Education Abroad program is encouraging me to pitch a course that would enable me to teach overseas sometime next year.

Can you believe it?

Those of you familiar with my journalism career know that I spent a decade at The Oregonian as the newsroom recruitment director and internship coordinator. So here I am, 18 months removed from leaving the newsroom, and I’m being given the opportunity to essentially build another internship program for a different employer and a different set of students.

What a perfect fit of my skills and background with the department’s need and desire to do a better job of helping students secure internships in public relations, advertising and communications. A primary goal is to ensure that they and their employers both benefit from the experience.

Starting in the fall, I will likely have no more than a handful of students to supervise, as the onus is on them to find and arrange an internship. Once I’m in the new role, the expectation is that I’ll be able to help place students with a variety of employers and provide ongoing support to ensure they are successful and doing meaningful work that relates to their academic major and career aspirations.

This vision no doubt will require lots of networking with internship coordinators already doing similar work for other campus departments, as well as with area employers who’ve had interns or are interested in having them. By adapting best practices to the Communication Department program and tapping the experiences of recent interns, I hope we’ll be able to develop a robust program that serves everyone’s needs — student, employer, university — and lays a foundation for a sustainable program.

I look forward to the challenge, confident that much of the work I did 20 years ago — advocating for students, building partnerships and strategic networking — will still be relevant and useful in a 21st century media environment.

***

None of what has transpired — and, certainly, none of what lies ahead — would have been possible without the help of key individuals on both campuses. So here let me express my gratitude to a handful of folks:

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PSU Professor Cynthia-Lou (Cindy) Coleman.

Cynthia-Lou Coleman. Cindy is a tenured professor and former chair of the Communication Department and she was the one who encouraged me to apply as an adjunct. She’s provided valuable counsel at every step of the way as I’ve gotten my foot in the door and become more established at PSU.

Jeffrey Robinson.  Jeff succeeded Cindy as the department chair. He’s the one who brought me aboard last fall and asked me to teach again during the winter, spring and summer. He approved a teaching assistant for me for an unexpectedly large class during one term. Most recently, he surprised with me with the proposal for 2017-18 that includes the internship piece.

Ky Tran. Ky is the all-purpose finance and administrative specialist who welcomed me to the department. She has been indispensable as an all-purpose resource, helping me figure out which campus buildings were located where; providing support for guest speakers; answering questions about payroll, student evaluations and other mundane matters. She’s moving on to a new job next month in the private sector and I know everyone in the department will miss her.

Ky Tran

Ky Tran greeted me warmly and was an invaluable resource during the past year at PSU.

Becky Kearny. Becky was a lifesaver during the winter term. As my teaching assistant, she helped grade certain assignments, kept track of student scores, did a lot of photocopying and provided useful feedback on my teaching methods and lesson plans. Becky was a straight-A student herself who excelled while managing a blended household of five girls, including three who were in college at the same time as her.

Narayanan Iyer. Nanu is program director of the Integrated Strategic Communication program at WSUV. He’s the one who brought me aboard in January and since Day One has provided encouragement, positive feedback and continuous opportunities to teach. He also has filled in for me as a guest lecturer when I’ve had to miss a couple of classes.

wsu. nanu iyer

Narayanan (Nanu) Iyer heads the Strategic Communication program at WSU Vancouver. 

Last but not least, my wife, Lori. She encouraged me initially as I set out on this new path but undoubtedly had second thoughts as our evenings and weekends were gobbled up by the workload associated with my classes. For each one, I had to create a syllabus and a weekly schedule, then develop lesson plans and lectures. I also had to assign, read and grade assorted papers;  put together midterm and final exams; and keep in touch with students, faculty and guest speakers.

No one sacrificed more than Lori during these first few months of 2017 and I am deeply appreciative. The workload has slackened a bit during summer and I’m confident I can manage it effectively when the new school year begins this fall.

Next: The joy of teaching

 

 

Vancouver, U.S.A.

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A quiet morning on the campus of Washington State University Vancouver.

Until this year began, I’d spent amazingly little time in The Couv, the nickname for the city directly across the river from Portland. You’d think that after 30-plus years of living just a few miles away, I would have found reason to eat a meal or take in a cultural event there, but no.

Things are changing, though, thanks to my getting hired to teach two undergraduate courses at Washington State University Vancouver.

Since January, I’ve become a regular commuter, making the 25-minute trip two mornings a week. I’m lucky to be going north because drivers headed in the opposite direction toward Portland endure horrendous traffic that stretches for miles on Interstate 5.

I’ll be doing more of this, starting next week when the summer session begins, and again in the fall.

wsu. nanu iyer

Narayanan (Nanu) Iyer heads the Strategic Communication program at WSU Vancouver. He’s the one who hired me to teach there.

Some might complain about the road warrior aspect, but I honestly don’t mind the commute. It gives me time to mentally prepare for the day’s lesson plans, and more than once I’ve tweaked things based on last-minute inspiration.

The drive also makes me feel more like a resident of metro Portland than of the city itself.

Just as I gained perspective on the relationship between Portland and its suburbs during the time I worked in Hillsboro and Forest Grove for The Oregonian/OregonLive, so too am I gaining an appreciation for Vancouver, a sprawling city of nearly 175,000 residents.

Portlanders often make fun of the place, calling it “Vantucky,” as if it were a northern outpost of Kentucky. I haven’t spent enough time there to form any opinions, but I do know the city is more conservative than Portland and probably more diverse than many might think, with about one in four residents belonging to racial or ethnic minority groups.

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Students, at left, moderated a panel discussion that featured six strategic communications professionals from the Portland-Vancouver area on May 5.

A recent panel discussion at WSUV that featured public relations and strategic communications professionals working in the Portland-Vancouver area reinforced that broader perspective. I felt very much like an undergraduate student listening to the perspectives and challenges described by these pros. I know the insights I gained that day will help me in preparing the syllabus for my summer class in Media Ethics.

Likewise, I anticipate another rich experience at a public forum at the Vancouver Community Library on a subject I know well. On Wednesday, June 14, I’ll be part of a panel discussing “News or Noise: Separating Fact from Fiction in Today’s Media.”

Here’s more on the program.

I look forward to questions and comments from members of the Vancouver community. I think it’s a given that this will be a boomer-heavy crowd, as opposed to the millennials who dominate my college classes.

Cougartown

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The instructor’s view in the classroom where I taught two courses at WSU Vancouver.

Last Thursday, I gave final exams in my two classes at Washington State University Vancouver.  On Monday, I entered final grades for a combined 45 students in those classes.

And then I exhaled.

Since January, I’ve been teaching three Communications classes — two at WSUV and one at Portland State.

Splitting my time between two campuses — two mornings a week at each one — has been the easy part. Preparing weekly lesson plans that include a mix of lectures, readings, videos, writing assignments, and guest speakers has been more challenging.  Even more so, the time and mental energy involved in grading dozens upon dozens of essays, media diaries, and other assignments.

But all that’s done. (Well, most of it anyway. I’ve still got the one class at Portland State, where my 50 students and I just passed the halfway point of the spring quarter.)

It’s time for a few fist-bumps and reflections on my first semester at WSUV.  And if you’re wondering about the headline, it’s a reference to the school mascot, the Cougars.

***

The list of thank-yous starts with Narayanan Iyer, the man who hired me to teach the just-completed classes.

wsu. nanu iyer

Narayanan (Nanu) Iyer, my No. 1 cheerleader and all-around support at WSU Vancouver.

Nanu is director of the Integrated Strategic Communications program within the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication, named for the legendary CBS News broadcaster. The college is headquartered in Pullman, home of the flagship campus, but WSU also has branch campuses in Vancouver, Everett, Spokane and the Tri-Cities.

Nanu invited me to give a guest lecture to a Sports and the Media class last fall. He liked what he saw and hired me to teach the course this semester, a 16-week haul from January to early May. He offered a second course, Reporting Across Platforms, a hybrid course in communications and journalism. The emphasis was on writing for digital, broadcast and print — mostly news but with a nod to public relations.

The sports course went beautifully, as more than a few eyes were opened to how sports mirrors every aspect of society on issues of race and gender, technology, economics, branding and marketing, political activism and sexual assault, just to name a few.

The second course went pretty well, too, although it required more adjustments on the fly. WSUV doesn’t yet have a journalism minor, let alone a major. Students have to go to Pullman for that. So, without an actual newsroom set-up and only a handful of class members seriously interested in journalism, it required some finesse.

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WSU Vancouver, located just across the Columbia River from Portland, has an enrollment of about 4,300 students.

In both classes, I called on an array of guest speakers, talented people that I’ve been privileged to work with or get to know over the years. (More on them below.)

Nanu was indispensible. He provided encouragement and support, guiding me through WSUV’s online learning management system (how to post and receive class assignments, send email, etc.) and even filling in for me as a guest lecturer when I had to miss two classes. Most of all, he made me comfortable and valued as an adjunct instructor — something you can’t put a price on.

The other big thank-you goes to Lori, whose patience (understandably) resembled a roller-coaster depending on whether I was partially or totally consumed with prepping for classes or plowing through a stack of papers that needed grading.

During 40-plus years of marriage to a journalist, Lori has put up with too many late dinners to count; evening, weekend and holiday work; out-of-town travel; interrupted vacations; and, in recent years, the nearly 24/7 demands of news and reader engagement in the digital age.

Lori in Tucson

Lori and I met in journalism school in the days when print was king. She’s put up with my shenanigans for more than 40 years.

I’m very aware and very appreciative that I’ve been able to put so much of my time into these three classes only because Lori has enabled me to. Our free time together has taken a big hit and I’ve had to give up regular exercise except for the weekends. But the worst of it is behind us now. From here on out, I’ll be teaching either one or two classes — not three — and I’ll be able to refresh material I’ve used before rather than build a course from scratch.

***

As for other thank-yous, let me start with five guest speakers in the Sports and the Media class.

Lindsay Schnell, a Sports Illustrated staff writer who covers college sports, and Gina Mizell, an Oregonian/OregonLive beat reporter who covers Oregon State football and women’s basketball, talked about having to work twice as hard to be taken seriously as women journalists in a male-dominated industry. It wasn’t that long ago that female journalists and their employers had to go to court to force teams and leagues to provide equal access to locker rooms, where so many coach and player interviews happen, so they could do their jobs on equal footing with men.

wsu.gina mizell

With undergraduate training in broadcast and print journalism, Gina Mizell is a double threat covering Oregon State athletics.

Tom Goldman told students of his career path in radio, starting at Alaska Public Radio in Anchorage and leading to his one-of-a-kind job as a Portland-based national correspondent for National Public Radio. His show-and-tell of assorted microphones and digital recorders captured students’ attention and focused their attention on an underappreciated way of delivering the news.

Chris Metz, vice president for communications with the Portland Timbers and Thorns, pulled back the curtain on the hectic life of a front-office executive. The job entails traveling with the teams; establishing and protecting their brands; helping manage coaches and players, who present a range of egos and personalities; dealing with local and national media; and responding to fans in the nation’s most popular soccer market.

And then there was Brenda Tracy. The victim of a gang rape by Oregon State football players in the late ’90s, Brenda has become a leading spokeswoman on sexual assault and rape culture, meeting with coaches and athletes across the country. Her story of redemption, beginning as a young single mom with no self-esteem, going public with her story, and subsequently becoming a registered nurse, victim advocate and national speaker, visibly moved the young men and women in my class. “Inspiring” doesn’t begin to capture the power of Brenda’s presence.

brenda tracy poster

Brenda Tracy cites her own experience as a victim in calling out rape culture.

***

I had five other guest speakers in the reporting class.

Kyle Iboshi, an investigative reporter at KGW and a Murrow alum himself, walked students through one of his stories, emphasizing that good reporting combines a nose for news, digging through public records, and holding public officials and institutions accountable. Like reporters everywhere, he’s producing video, writing for digital as well as broadcast, and engaging with readers on Twitter and Facebook.

Steve Woodward, a former colleague at The Oregonian, introduced students to “The new ‘New Journalism'”.  With an entertaining slide show full of hyperlinks, Steve moves across the spectrum of new and mostly innovative web sites that have sprung up as alternatives to the traditional mainstream media. While most students were familiar with HuffPost and BuzzfeedNews, fewer knew about Vice, Vox, Mic, Fusion, and Rare. Same goes for ProPublica, Five Thirty Eight and The Young Turks. An innovator himself, Steve has taught journalism at three colleges and universities and is newsroom director of a Portland-based startup that’s producing one-minute videos for an increasingly international viewership.

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Steve Woodward, speaking during the winter term to students at Portland State University.

Another former colleague at The O and OregonLive, Anna Griffin, introduced the class to multi-platform journalism as practiced by her employer, Oregon Public Broadcasting. Known for its sober, solid reporting on public affairs and other topics such as education, environment and diversity, OPB delivers content online, on the radio and TV. That means reporters today, regardless of age, must know how to write for different mediums, as well as shoot video, capture audio, and live tweet.

opb.anna griffin

Anna Griffin has made a smooth transition from print to multimedia journalism at Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Beth Nakamura, a staffer at The Oregonian/OregonLive, shared her perspective as a photojournalist who broke into the business in an era of still photography, darkroom chemicals and once-a-day print deadlines and has had to adapt to a completely flipped reality. Weighed down with cameras and lenses of all sizes, Beth now shoots live video, writes her own stories, downloads photo galleries in minutes, and transmits from anywhere she can get an internet connection. Beth’s images depict ordinary people experiencing both tough and tender moments, reflecting not just their hopes, interests and challenges but her own dedication: “to enable people to be heard.”

wsu.beth nakamura

Beth Nakamura: photographer, videographer, storyteller.

Dianne Danowski-Smith, a vice president with Publix NW,  wrapped things up with an energetic presentation that covered “the other side” of the media. As a longtime public relations pro, she explained the differences in producing in-house and external communications, in working for corporate and government employers, and in preparing for crisis situations, where some kind of response is always needed to limit damage to the client.

Each and every one of the professional journalists brought something intangible but yet very important to the class — a passion for their work that has guided their career development while also delivering compelling stories that inform, entertain and occasionally enrage readers.

I am grateful to all of them for sharing their time and expertise, indebted to Nanu for hiring me, and ever so appreciative of my wife for going through this extra-busy stretch with me.

Up next: Summer session starts June 6 with a class on Media Ethics.

 

Lab Girl

hope jahren in lab

Hope Jahren in her research lab.

Science has never been my forte. High school chemistry and biology were challenging enough, so I never went near physics. In college, I took a single general science course and was thankful I wasn’t required to do more.

So why would I put “Lab Girl” on my list of hoped-for Christmas or birthday gifts?

Two reasons: 1) I spotted the title late last year on a New York Times list of notable books and the thumbnail review sounded interesting; 2) I thought it might give me better understanding of the kind of work our youngest son wants to do.

I recently finished the book and I’m happy to say it’s a gem. It’s beautifully written and it’s illuminated the path that lies ahead for Jordan, who’s graduating next month with a bachelors degree in biology and hopes to become a research scientist.

One critic says of the author: “Hope Jahren is the voice that science has been waiting for.”

Indeed.

Jahren is one of those people who is multiply talented, almost astonishingly so.

lab girl coverHer academic credentials? She’s received three Fulbright Awards in geobiology, has a Ph.D in soil science from UC Berkeley, has taught at Johns Hopkins and Georgia Tech, and has been named by Time magazine as one of the world’s “100 Most Influential People.” Still in her 40s, she is a tenured professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and currently is a fellow at the University of Oslo, where she studies fossil forests. She’s fluent in Norwegian, by the way.

Her writing chops? Impressive. It’s hard to believe this collection of essays is her first book. Part memoir, part introduction to the science of trees and plants, she has the ability to explain concepts and procedures in lay terms that even I can grasp. And her prose at times is downright dazzling. (You’ll see for yourself in the excerpts the follow.)

She writes with authority born of expertise, with wisdom born of experience, and with self-deprecating humor born of perspective. Binding it all together are the passion that she brings to her work, and the determination and discipline that have fueled her success in a male-dominated profession.

As a female scientist, she has been the only woman in a college class, the only woman at a professional conference, one of few women among a university’s science faculty, and certainly one of few among her colleagues who’s had to take a career break to give birth.

“My desire to become a scientist was founded upon a deep instinct and nothing more; I never heard of a single story about a living female scientist, never met one or even saw one on television.

“As a female scientist I am still unusual, but in my heart I was never anything else. Over the years I have built three laboratories from scratch, given warmth and life to three empty rooms, each one bigger and better than the last. My current laboratory is almost perfect — located in balmy Honolulu and housed within a magnificent building that is frequently crowned by rainbows and surrounded by hibiscus flowers in constant bloom — but somehow I know that I will never stop building and wanting more. My laboratory is not “room T309” as stated on my university’s blueprints; it is “the Jahren Laboratory,” and it always will be, no matter where it is located. It bears my name because it is my home.”

How did she become a scientist? Raised in a small Midwest town with three older brothers, she essentially grew up in the lab where her father taught at the local community college. As a young girl, she became acquainted with the workbenches, the equipment, and the drawers full of magnets, wire, glass, metal and other stuff that all proved useful for something.

Culturally, she was born into a Scandinavian home where silence and emotional distance between family members were the norm, something that, for better or worse, contributed to her self-reliance.

That’s a trait that she had to rely on early in her career as she sought to establish her credentials and find stable employment in her chosen career. She describes several instances of sexism (no surprise) and early on introduces us to a quirky fellow named Bill, who she met as a grad student at Berkeley. The two formed an exceptional bond as fellow scientists and later as friends, and he continues to serve as Jahren’s senior research lab manager in Oslo. He’s instrumental to her telling of the larger story of “Lab Girl.”

Jahren describes the life of the research scientist as one that is both esoteric and often lonely. People don’t know what you do or why, and they don’t have the foggiest idea of how precarious the funding is for such work.

Jahren_aup

Hope Jahren, scientist and author.

***

As I write this on Earth Day, thousands of scientists are marching in Washington, D.C., and hundreds of other cities on six continents to draw attention to the value of science and to their worries that “evidence has been crowded out by ideology and opinion in public debate and policymaking.”

Read The Washington Post’s story: “Why scientists are marching on Washington and more than 600 cities”

In one essay, Jahren explains that there is just one significant source of support for the kind of research she does — the National Science Foundation, which is funded by our federal tax dollars.

In 2013, the NSF’s budget was $7.3 billion, a sum that sounds large until you learn that the Department of Agriculture’s budget is about three times that amount, the Department of Homeland Security’s budget is five times as large, and the Department of Defense’s “discretionary” budget alone is more than 60 times that sum.

Jahren points out that the U.S. government spends twice as much on its space program as it does on all of its other scientists put together. Little wonder that those specializing in other fields are left scrambling to apply for three-year grants and additional university funding to pay for salaries and benefits, student help, chemicals, equipment, travel and administrative overhead charges.

“Ask a science professor what she worries about,” Jahren writes. “It won’t take long. She’ll look you in the eye and say one word: ‘Money.’ ”

***

As informative as the book is, the writing itself is superb. The author has a website called hopejahrensurecanwrite.com, where she maintains a lively blog. She also credits her mother with instilling in her an appreciation for reading and writing.

As a high school senior in the 1950s, Hope’s mom was awarded an honorable mention in a prestigious national science competition and hoped to study chemistry at the state university. But lack of money forced her to drop out and she moved back to her hometown, where she married, became a mother and homemaker, and some 20 years later took correspondence courses in English literature to get her college degree.

The daughter learned her lessons well. Consider this excerpt, where Jahren recalls her days as an undergraduate at the University of Minnesota (the same place her mom, dad and brothers attended) working in the university hospital during the 3-to-11 p.m. shift as a “runner” hand-delivering IV pain medications to the nursing stations where they were needed.

“That night in the hospital I walked in and out of the hospice ward ten or twenty times, and my eyes and hands moved through the necessary tasks. Well into the night and deeper into my brain, it came to me that as hospital workers, we were being paid to trail along behind Death as he escorted frail, wasted bodies over difficult miles, dragging their loved ones along with him. My job was to meet the traveling party at its designated way station and faithfully provide fresh supplies for the journey. When the weary group disappeared over the horizon, we turned back, knowing that another agonized family would be arriving soon.

“The doctors, nurses, and I didn’t cry because the bewildered husbands and stricken daughters were carrying enough for all of us. Helpless and impotent against the awesome power of Death, we nonetheless bowed out heads in the pharmacy, injected twenty milliliters of salvation int a bag of tears, blessed it again and again, and then carried it like a baby to the hospice and offered it up. The drug would flow into a passive vein, the family wold draw close, and a cup of fluid might be temporarily removed from their ocean of pain.” 

Wow. Gives me chills.

“Lab Girl” is a great book for the young scientist in your life, and even better if that person is a girl. It’s also a great book for yourself, especially if you’re one, like me, who would have benefited from Science  for Dummies. At 282 pages, it’s a fairly fast read and one that will leave you with admiration for the work and life of a remarkable research scientist named Hope Jahren.

(Click on images to view captions.)

Eight years and still laying bricks

Vertie Hodge, 74, weeps during an Inauguration Day party near Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. in Houston on Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2009 after President Barack Obama delivered his speech after taking the oath of office, becoming the first black president in the United States.

Vertie Hodge, 74, weeps during an Inauguration Day party near Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. in Houston on Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2009 after President Barack Obama delivered his speech after taking the oath of office, becoming the first black president in the United States.

In January 2009, Barack Obama took office as 44th President of the United States.

A month later, the Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Arizona Cardinals, 27-23, in the 43rd Super Bowl and Bruce Springsteen performed during the halftime show.

Back then, our oldest son, Nathan, was a few months away from getting his bachelors degrees in business and marketing at Portland State. Our daughter, Simone, was working with low-income students at alternative high schools in Portland and applying to graduate schools on the East Coast. Our youngest son, Jordan, was a newlywed and and stationed with the U.S. Army in El Paso, Texas.

Lori and I were empty nesters, still in the Grant Park neighborhood where we raised our kids and living with our dogs, Otto and Max, and our cats, Rudy and Mabel.

And so it was that on March 1, yours truly launched the Rough and Rede blog. I’d been hired to teach a weekend seminar at a local college called “Opinion and the Blogosphere.” (How quaint that word “blogosphere” seems now.)

My first blog post, written in the wee hours of March 1, 2009, was comprised of a single paragraph:

It’s about time…I’m going to teach a weekend seminar on “Opinion and the Blogosphere.” Shouldn’t I have a blog of my own? Even one that has more bones than skin? It’s about time…It’s after 1 in the morning, that transition time between Saturday night and Sunday morning. I find I do some of my clearest thinking and clearest writing in the wee hours. Fewer distractions that way. It’s about time…How will I sustain this? I’m already on Facebook; don’t wanna do MySpace. I’m online every day, much of the day, owing to my job as editor of the Sunday Opinion section at The Oregonian. It’s about time…It’s about getting started, as the title of this post says. Choose an image: dive in, dip your toes in the water, take the first step, just do it. So I’m doing it. I have no illusions about this, by the way. Just one guy on the Left Coast laying the first brick of what I hope will be good for the soul, good for the mind. Welcome, friends and new readers.

Well, here we are, eight years later. President Obama is president no longer and our nation threatens to pull itself apart under the policies of the Cheeto-in-Chief.

The New England Patriots just won the Super Bowl (again).

Nathan is following his passions of music and food, working as a DJ and a cook at a Thai restaurant. Simone is married and working for Metro as a senior auditor. Jordan is a young father, living near Tacoma, Washington, and closing in on a biology degree at nearby St. Martin’s University.

Lori and I are in a condo, sharing our living space with our slinky feline, Mabel, and our rascally little mutt, Charlotte.

And I’m celebrating the eight-year anniversary of the original Rough and Rede blog.

***

How appropriate that this milestone would fall on the same date that I just gave my Media Literacy students their midterm exam in COM 312 at Portland State University.

Eight years ago, I was still employed at The Oregonian and just dipping my toes into the waters of higher education.

Now here I am, 14 months removed from taking a buyout at The Oregonian/OregonLive, and teaching not one college course but three.

In addition to my class at Portland State, I’m also teaching two communications courses across the river at Washington State University Vancouver.

I’ve written about the transition from newsroom to classroom before, so I won’t go into yet again, although I fully expect to reflect on my teaching experiences when the quarter (PSU) and semester (WSU) are done at each campus.

***

I’ve got some more thoughts on this personal milestone and I’ll share them before the week is through. In the meantime, thanks to one and all for following the original R&R blog or this newer version, Rough and Rede II.

Photograph: AP Photo/Houston Chronicle, Mayra Beltran

 

From the newsroom to the classroom

 

wsu-classroom

The classroom where I teach two courses at Washington State University Vancouver.

I’m five weeks deep into the 2017 winter quarter at Portland State University, already halfway done with the 10-week term. Across the river, five weeks in means I’m a third of the way though the 16-week spring semester at Washington State University Vancouver.

I’m teaching one course at PSU on Monday-Wednesday and two at WSUV on Tuesday-Thursday and, yes, that’s keeping me plenty busy. (I also work four afternoons a week at a local nonprofit, but let’s not go there right now.)

As I write this on a Saturday morning, I’m struck by how fast the time goes, particularly when snow days force cancellation of classes — two at each campus — during the first two weeks. Throw in the King Day holiday and that’s another day we didn’t hold class at PSU.

But who’s complaining?

Fourteen months after leaving The Oregonian/OregonLive, I’ve got plenty on my plate.

***

Here I am this weekend with nearly 70 essays to grade, three chapters to read in three textbooks, two guest speakers to prepare for next week, and dates and times to confirm with a half-dozen more guests I’ve lined up in next couple of months.

Surely, this is nothing out of the ordinary for anyone who teaches full-time or even as an adjunct. Classroom time is just part of the deal. Planning and prep time take up a lot of intellectual energy, too, but the many administrative tasks involved — grading papers, maintaining a grade book, posting weekly schedules and lecture notes online, emailing students — account for far more time.

But, again, who’s complaining?

When I agreed to teach three classes at once, I knew I was in for a challenge. But the rewards are definitely worth it.

There is no better time to be teaching Media Literacy than now. When you’ve got a new administration declaring war on the press, throwing out phony accusations of fake news, and offering “alternative facts” as a diversion from verifiable facts that show Trump and his minions in an unflattering light, well, it’s the perfect time for a course like this.

My students at PSU have eagerly engaged on the subject, admitting their own shortcomings when it comes to digital literacy but also getting quickly up to speed in understanding who is providing what content (news, opinion, advertising) on the internet and for what purpose.

In Vancouver, I’m having a great time teaching Sports and the Media, holding up organized sports as a mirror of society. Coverage of sports has gone so far beyond just games, scores and hero worship to an era of athlete activism and self-marketing and wart-and-all coverage of coaches, players and programs. I present sports as a mirror of society, touching on racism, sexism, politics, entertainment, marketing and campus sexual abuse, among other topics. (Great timing to have Super Bowl 51 come along to illustrate the intersection of so many of these themes.)

I’m also teaching Reporting Across Platforms, traditionally a writing-intensive course designed to prepare students for producing words and images for print, broadcast and digital. I’m going at it somewhat differently, in light of the fact that many students are non-communications majors (let alone non-journalism majors) and have never done journalism in their life.

Accordingly, I’m trying to provide more context about the challenges facing today’s multimedia journalists in an era of 24/7 news and social media rather than emphasize basic skills of reporting, interviewing, writing and tweeting. The students are taking baby steps, but they’re also getting introduced to media ethics and the realities of a profession under siege.

I’ll check in again when the quarter and semester are done.

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I met for coffee recently with Gosia Wozniacka, a former reporter at The Oregonian and the Associated Press, who is now teaching a journalism class at Clark College in Vancouver. We compared notes on teaching.

For now, I take comfort in knowing I’m making a difference in how these young people are seeing things more clearly now — and even putting actions behind their words.

At least three students have let me know they have begun subscribing to The Oregonian/OregonLive or least committed to buying the newspaper two days a week as a sign of their support for local journalism. Several more made it clear to me, in emails or in class discussions, that they now understand the importance of a free press in a democratic society and are changing their media consumption habits accordingly.

What more could a teacher ask for?

 

2016: What a year

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Dawn on Orcas Island brings a magnificent view of Mount Baker.

Three weeks from today, the nation will inaugurate a new president — not the one I wanted, not the one everyone expected, but the bloviating mess known as Donald J. Trump.

I shudder to think what the next four years will be like under this man who continues to defy every social and political convention while trampling on the bounds of common decency. Especially so after the model of dignity, grace and intelligence that we’ve seen exhibited by Barack Obama and his equally impressive wife, Michelle, a power in her own right.

It’s still beyond belief that a man so ignorant (and proud of it), so misogynistic (and proud of it), so narcissistic (and proud of it) has been elected to the nation’s highest office. Yet there’s no disputing that Trump’s election was the story of the year in 2016.

But I’m not going to dwell on him. I’ve got my own agenda today — and that’s taking a look back at the year that was. For all the sadness we felt seeing so many entertainers and other public figures pass from the scene — David Bowie, Prince, Maurice White, Elie Wiesel, Garry Shandling, George Michael, Carrie Fisher, et al — there was a lot of other stuff going on in the Rede household.

After all, this is the year I traveled a new path, away from the newsroom where I had worked for the past 30 years. This was the year I caught a glimpse of what retirement might be like, only to settle into a new work routine in the fall.

Here’s a quick take:

***

First grandchild: We welcomed a charming little girl into our lives in late July. Little Emalyn May Rede, the daughter of our youngest son, Jordan, and his wife, Jamie, has been nothing but a source of pride and joy.

Lori and I were privileged to be the first ones to see and hold Emalyn, other than her parents, when she was just hours old. In the months since, she’s already transformed from helpless infant to smiling, healthy baby, seemingly delighted to be part of the action.

A new job (actually, two): Just as my severance from The Oregonian/OregonLive was running out in mid-September, along came two opportunities to return to the workforce.

Portland State University hired me to teach in the Department of Communications. I got started with a Media Ethics class that set me on a course I’ve always wanted to explore — that of a classroom teacher.

At the same time, I landed a part-time job as communications coordinator with the nonprofit Portland Workforce Alliance, an organization that partners with local employers and schools to expand career and technical education opportunities for metro-area high school students.

In January, I will add a third leg to this stool as an adjunct instructor at Washington State University Vancouver. I loved being a journalist, but I also feel fortunate to have these new employment opportunities.

The big noventa: My dad turned 90 years old in March, so all three of us kids and our extended families gathered in a San Diego suburb to celebrate nine decades of good living.

My dad and stepmom drove in from New Mexico. Lori and I flew in from Portland. My younger sister Cathy flew down from Alaska. My older sister Rosemary, with help from her daughter and son-in-law, hosted the party near Oceanside.

whole damn family

Thanks to a selfie stick, four generations of Redes gather around Dad (in black hat) in honor of his 90th birthday.

Catarino Allala Rede is the only sibling left from a family of seven brothers and two sisters. It was great to see my dad basking in the love and admiration of his children, grandchildren and great-children. For a man who did manual labor all his life and whose formal education stopped at the eighth grade before he went back later in life to get a G.E.D., he’s done pretty damn well.

A baseball road trip: In May, I made a whirlwind trip that allowed me to see four Major League Baseball games in three cities in five days. I flew into Pittsburgh, then drove to Cleveland and on to Cincinnati.

In all, I covered about 400 miles from western Pennsylvania to Ohio, traveling the length of the Buckeye State through gently rolling landscapes. With Lori’s blessing, I stayed in three airbnb rentals and took the opportunity to see new sights, experience unfamiliar places, and visit with new and old friends in Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.

Cool concerts: There were only three this year involving pop artists, but each was satisfying in its own right.

Got to see Jackson Browne at Edgefield in August and he was outstanding. A month earlier, I saw the Dixie Chicks at a Clark County amphitheater just north of Portland and they were exceptional. Their July concert came at a time when I was feeling down, given a spasm of fatal shootings of both civilians and cops in three states.

In November, I saw Liz Longley, a favorite singer-songwriter, for the second time in 18 months, this time in the intimate space of the Alberta Rose Theater.

Excellent books: All that free time I had in the first few months of the year enabled me to dive into the world of literature. Although I slowed down considerably after going back to work, I still managed to plow through 15 books.

They ran the gamut — everything from a young reader books about a transgender youth (“George” by Alex Gino) and a deaf baseball player (“The William Hoy Story” by Nancy Churnin) to a gritty collection of stories about the Motor City (“Detroit” by Charlie LeDuff) to a rape survivor’s memoir (“Lucky” by Alice Sebold) to a sweeping novel about race, culture and class in Nigeria and the United States (“Americanah” by Chimananda Ngozi Adichie.

There was lots more by the likes of John Updike, Steig Larsson, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Lauren Groff, Celeste Ng, Anne Hillerman and Robert Goodlick. You’ll find a synopsis of each one here: Books & Literature.

PIFF: Early in the year, I joined the ranks of volunteers at the 39th annual Portland International Film Festival. In exchange for helping to greet patrons, take tickets, etc., I got to see six movies for free at three theaters during the month of February.

It was a lot of fun and I’d like to do it again, but not this year. Too much going on with my three part-time jobs to even consider it.

Urban hikes: Another luxury during the first half of the year was exploring my own city with the help of a great guidebook, “Portland Hill Walks” by Laura O. Foster.

I made a routine of selecting a route that took me into mostly unfamiliar neighborhoods, where I learned a lot about the city’s history, geography and demographics. Hard to say which were my favorites, but I do recall the pleasant surprise of discovering Marshall Park in Southwest Portland and getting thoroughly soaked when I hiked through the jewel that is Washington Park.

Island getaways: We made it up to our cabin on Orcas Island three times. Each time is like opening a valve and releasing the stress that comes with living in a city of 632,000 people and an urban area of 2.4 million. Compare that to maybe 2,000 folks total on Orcas.

We’re blessed to have a place where we can hike and kayak, read, play board games, feed the birds and watch old movies — all in a beautiful place that offers Solitude with a capital S.

This year, we enjoyed a parade and community potluck on the Fourth of July weekend and hosted our longtime friends, Bob and Deborah Ehlers. We did our best to make their three-night stay a memorable one, with excursions to Doe Bay, Eagle Lake and Mount Constitution.

Pets: We lost our beloved Otto in July, shortly after our final trip to the island and just a week before Emalyn was born. He was a Jack Russell Terrier, 11 years old, blessed with a sweet disposition, and loved by all who knew him. Otto was especially close to Lori and had earned the status of “The Fourth Child.” Fittingly, he died of an an enlarged heart.

Before Otto died, he schooled little Charlotte, our Terrier-Pug-Chihuahua mix, in the ways of the world. She misses him, for sure, but she has blossomed as the sole focus of our canine attention. Charlotte and I survived a run-in with two pit bulls at a dog park, but she’s healed completely and is becoming more social with other dogs and humans.

Mabel, now the senior pet, continues to rule the roost in her own bedroom, a sweet brown tabby who refuses to come downstairs and interact with Charlotte.

Voices of August: No recap would be complete without mention of my annual guest blog project and post-publication meetup. For six years now, I’ve opened up the blog to a different writer each day during the month of August. It’s a wonderful thing to see — a diverse group of friends, relatives and co-workers from all over the country (and even abroad) each taking a turn writing about an issue or an experience that never fails to entertain, inform or resonate with an online audience.

This year’s VOA gathering was held at a Northeast Portland brewpub not far from our home and drew folks from three states, including my compadre, Al Rodriguez, and his lovely wife (and first-time VOA contributor), Elizabeth Lee.

***

hillary-buttonLike the other 65 million-plus Americans who voted for Hillary Clinton, I wish we were inaugurating the nation’s first female president. Instead, I’m left to hope that in 2017 we can endure the worst of what a Trump presidency can bring and begin building a coalition that returns the White House to someone we can put our trust in.

Happy New Year, everyone.

The amazing Brenda Tracy

brenda-tracy

Brenda Tracy, the last and most riveting of our guest speakers in Media Ethics, an undergraduate course at Portland State University.

If you don’t know Brenda Tracy’s story, you should.

Few, if any, of my Media Ethics students had even heard of her until Brenda spoke to them in class two weeks ago. After listening to Brenda describe her journey from gang-rape survivor with no self-esteem to self-confident public speaker on sexual abuse and rape culture, I doubt they will ever forget her.

I already knew Brenda’s compelling story, having read it two years ago when it landed on the front page of The Sunday Oregonian. But as I listened to her retell it that Thursday morning, I knew I had made the right choice inviting her to be our final guest speaker for the fall term.

My students had already learned a lot from previous speakers — a variety of journalists and public relations professionals — about how to do journalism ethically and responsibly. How to report accurately while also practicing discretion about unnecessary details. How to show empathy without losing one’s objectivity. How to interview a vulnerable subject about sensitive issues and help that person brace for the resulting public exposure and reader reaction.

But the students hadn’t heard directly from anyone who could tell them what it’s like to entrust the telling of your story — including invasive, humiliating facts — to a reporter. For an hour, they listened and learned as this remarkable woman reflected on her experiences and credited a principled and highly skilled journalist for restoring her dignity and bringing her out of the shadows. .

***

In 1998, Brenda Tracy was a waitress, a 24-year-old single mother of two boys, when she was gang-raped by four men, two college football players and two recruits, in an off-campus apartment near Oregon State University.

She’d been sexually abused as a child and had been in abusive relationships as a young woman. After the attack, Brenda said, she felt suicidal, her self-esteem in shreds.

The four men were charged but never brought to trial. The local district attorney needed Brenda’s cooperation to get convictions but she wavered, feeling lack of support from people closest to her and believing herself not strong enough to go through the process.

She didn’t know the prosecutor had taped confessions from the suspects. She didn’t know the police had tossed out her rape kit without even testing it.

She only knew that two Oregon State players were suspended for one game and ordered to give 25 hours of community service for what their coach, Mike Riley, called “a bad choice.” The other two suspects went unpunished.

Brenda said she hated Riley for years, hated him even more than her rapists. But she finally met with him this year, after he said he regretted making the “bad choice” remark, and changed her opinion of the man.

After Riley left Oregon last year to become head coach at the University of Nebraska, he invited Brenda to speak to all 144 members of his football team this summer and formally apologized to her.

“We talked about consent and we brainstormed ideas about how they could get involved individually and as a team to change the culture that valued winning over human lives,” Brenda wrote following her June 22 visit with the team. “We covered a lot of ground in that one hour and when it was over many of them came up to me and shook my hand or gave me a hug and thanked me for being there.”

brenda-tracy-mike-riley

Brenda Tracy with Coach Mike Riley following their meeting in Lincoln, Nebraska on June 22, 2016. (Photograph by Brenda Tracy)

***

Today, at 43, Brenda Tracy is more than a rape survivor. Brenda is a registered nurse and a paid consultant working with Oregon State officials to prevent sexual violence, especially involving college athletes. She’s also a citizen activist who’s lobbied for changes in Oregon’s rape laws, providing more time to bring charges in the most serious cases.

She worked with a Portland attorney on 2015 legislation that extended Oregon’s statute of limitations for first-degree sex crimes from six to 12 years, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported. A law passed the following year provides that if new evidence emerges — such as a previously untested rape kit, or new testimony from witnesses or other victims — a case can be reconsidered at any time.

brenda-tracy-poster

Brenda Tracy is the featured speaker at a conference planned in Vancouver, Washington, early next year.

Since sports columnist John Canzano told her story in November 2014, Brenda has been interviewed by local and national media, appeared on television, spoken at college campuses, and testified before Oregon lawmakers.

None of these efforts to help other rape survivors would have been possible without the publication of a story that allowed her to heal emotionally. To see herself once again as a person worthy of respect. And to challenge the notion that victims are responsible for what happened to them.

“John absolutely changed my life,” Brenda said. “He transformed my entire life.”

***

Until she spoke to my class, I hadn’t met Brenda Tracy. We’d exchanged emails and spoken by phone this summer when I was setting up a Skype interview with her for two high school students I mentored during a journalism camp at Oregon State.

I was impressed that she made time to speak to the two teenagers, considering it was the day before she was scheduled to fly to Lincoln, Nebraska, to speak to Riley’s football team. A real sign of her character, I thought.

In person, Brenda was warm and gracious.She spoke without notes and patiently answered students’ questions. It was clear that her tale of personal redemption and her testament to the power of ethical journalism resonated with both men and women in my class. .

“If you write these stories, you have to understand this is a life,” she told them. “It’s not about you — it’s about the victim, it’s about the survivor.”

When the hour was up, she gave me a hug in front of the class and offered to come speak again.

We often toss around the words “hero” and “amazing” to describe people who’ve displayed uncommon courage or done extraordinary things. In my mind, there is no doubt both words apply to Brenda Tracy.

***

Read John Canzano’s 2014 story here.

Read continuing coverage of Brenda Tracy here.

Follow Brenda Tracy on Facebook here.

A round of thank-yous

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High-fives to all those who helped or inspired me before and during the fall quarter.

If it takes a village to raise a child, the same applies to a newbie educator teaching his first full-time class.

I just finished teaching Media Ethics, an undergraduate course in the Department of Communications at Portland State University. The class began in late September and wrapped up last week with a final exam and posting of grades. But the preparation began months before and I got help along the way from an assorted cast of people.

It’s time to thank each and every one.

coleman-new-mug

Cynthia-Lou Coleman

Cynthia-Lee Coleman. My biggest advocate. As chair of the Communications Department, Cindy hired me several years ago to teach two weekend “mini-courses” when I was still working at The Oregonian. No longer leading the department but still teaching as a full professor, Cindy urged me to consider adjunct teaching after I left the newsroom. She went to bat for me with her successor and I was offered a contract in June. She’s been a terrific sounding board and a constant source of reassurance during the term.

Jeffrey Robinson. The one who hired me. Jeff succeeded Cindy as Communications Department chair. He initially asked me to teach this fall and next winter. Recently, he asked me to teach in the spring quarter, too. Delighted to have his vote of confidence.

David Kennamer. An assistant professor. David has previously taught Media Ethics and has been generous sharing class materials and insights. He loaned me his textbook to read in advance of teaching the class; he welcomed me to sit in on a summer class he was teaching; and he shared his observations about today’s college students. I’ve run into him several times this term and we’ve commiserated about our classes.

Lee Shaker. Also an assistant professor. Lee also has been generous with his time. I watched him teach a Media Literacy class this spring and paid him a visit this fall to pick his brain as I’ll be teaching the course during winter quarter. During our conversation, Lee reminded me to keep the big picture in mind — doing whatever we can to help students be successful. (As a sign of how we are all connected, Lee is a cousin of Anne Saker, a talented reporter I worked with at The Oregonian and visited last spring in Cincinnati, where she now lives.)

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Bailey, one of a handful of work-study students who provided clerical help.

The work-study students in the Comm Department. I relied on a handful of students for help making photocopies of graded papers and exams before many a class. I got to know one of them, Bailey, a pre-law major from Forest Grove, better than the others because she regularly worked Tuesday and Thursday mornings when I taught. All were a huge help in saving me time and effort.

GUEST SPEAKERS

My students loved each and every one. I’m thankful to have this network of professional colleagues who so generously gave their time and shared their experiences.

Mark Katches, editor and vice president/content at The Oregonian/OregonLive. Mark provided an overview of the news industry’s transition from print to digital. While acknowledging the challenges, he also was upbeat about journalism’s continuing role as a government watchdog.

Nigel Jaquiss, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter at Willamette Week. A Wall Street bond trader who became a journalist, Nigel left an indelible impression by explaining the difference between the public’s “right to know” and readers’ “need to know.” That’s a subtle but important distinction in providing or withholding information about public figures and captures well the concept of “discretion.”

Kyle Iboshi, investigative reporter at KGW. When Kyle talked about the challenges of doing a live TV broadcast during a street protest — think audible profanities, obscene gestures, F-bombs on handmade placards — students understood what he meant about making on-the-spot ethical decisions that strike a balance between offensive content and accuracy.

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Investigative reporters Kyle Ibohsi of KGW, left, and Nigel Jaquiss of Willamette Week discuss their craft with Media Ethics students at Portland State.

Jean Kempe-Ware, public relations consultant and former spokeswoman at Lewis & Clark College. Many of students were in kindergarten when the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal broke in the mid-90s. Jean had their full attention when she described the unethical behavior of mainstream journalists trying to get confidential information about Monica Lewinsky, a former student at the private liberal arts college in Portland where Jean worked at the time.

Chris Broderick, associate vice president for communications and marketing at Portland State. A former colleague at The Oregonian, Chris transitioned to public relations a few years ago and now oversees a staff of 18 at PSU. He spoke candidly about missteps the university made when it lined up a press conference to announce a major gift from an anonymous donor — only to have the gift fall through when officials learned the donor didn’t have the financial resources he claimed.

Dianne Danowski Smith, vice president at Publix Northwest. This public relations pro uttered a phrase that stuck with the class and wound up as a question on the final term. In today’s digital media environment we  have “too many publishers, not enough editors.”

John Schrag, executive editor at the Pamplin Media Group, the chain of suburban newspapers ringing the metro area. John previously was editor and publisher of the News-Times in Forest Grove and still resides there. When you’re a well-known journalist living in a small town, conflicts of interest involving your employer and family members are par for the course, he told students.

Samantha Swindler, Metro columnist at The Oregonian/OregonLive and Oregon Territory chapter president of the Society of Professional Journalists. Samantha, who also has endured life in a fishbowl in Forest Grove, urged students to be more savvy about their media consumption — a challenge that prompted some pushback.

Jeff Mapes, senior political reporter at Oregon Public Broadcasting. One week after America elected a new president, the pre-eminent political reporter in Oregon paid us a visit to share his deep knowledge of Northwest politics and campaign coverage. Jeff admitted he and just about everyone else underestimated Donald Trump.

Beth Nakamura, photojournalist extraordinaire at The Oregonian/OregonLive. Beth made a profound impression in discussing the ethical aspects of photojournalism — a concept that had never occurred to most in the class. She talked about the taboo of staging a news photo and of her commitment to increasing the visibility of ordinary people. This, she said, can be done through visual storytelling suffused with honesty and dignity.

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Raised in a working class town in western Massachusetts, photojournalist Beth Nakamura says she seeks to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable” — a saying that originated with Chicago journalist Finley Peter Dunne in 1902.

Brenda Tracy, sexual assault survivor and citizen lobbyist. For our final class, I asked the victim of a heinous crime — a gang-rape that went un-prosecuted in the late 1990s — to talk about what it’s like to entrust your story to a journalist and find yourself thrust into the media spotlight. Brenda said she regained her self-esteem and later joined in efforts to reform Oregon’s rape laws — and declared none of it would have been possible without accurate, meticulous, ethical reporting by John Canzano of The Oregonian/OregonLive.

***

Finally, a tip of the hat to a trio of professors across the country who offered tips and inspiration, directly and indirectly: Dean Miller, Jacqui Banaszynski, Angie Chuang.

And last, but certainly not least…

Lori Rauh Rede. My wife, my rock. Only Lori knows how many hours I devoted to preparing for and slogging through this term. She listened to my stories — of success and disappointment, of surprise and inspiration — and she tolerated the many nights and weekends I spent preparing lectures and slideshows, grading essays and exams, and doing outside reading.

oi-lori

My beautiful wife, Lori.

We went to dinner last week at a favorite Lebanese restaurant to celebrate the end of the term. It was hardly enough. I know I am truly fortunate to have the love and support of this woman I first locked eyes with on the student newspaper staff at San Jose State.

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