Teach in London this summer? Yes!

london students

Looking forward to exploring London this summer with these six students: Clockwise from left: Rainshine Heffner, Ella Fredericks, Anna Nelson, Yohana Lewis. Rachel Jones, Samantha Thomas.

It’s really happening. Next month, I’m heading to the United Kingdom to spend two weeks teaching a communications class in London, England.

I’ll be leading a group of six students from the Portland area to one of the world’s most influential cities to study Media Literacy, using London as our classroom.

On Friday, July 13th (no superstitions for me), I’ll fly nonstop from Portland to Heathrow Airport. Arriving mid-morning Saturday, I’ll take the Tube to the furnished apartment waiting for me in the Kensington district and await the arrival of my students over the next couple days.

We’ll start off with a walking tour of the immediate neighborhood walking tour, a formal orientation at our classroom, a doubledecker bus tour of key sights and sites, and a traditional British afternoon tea.

From there, we’ll launch into a jam-packed schedule of guest speakers, site visits to advertising and public relations agencies, an online-only newspaper office, a local television station and (fingers crossed) a nonprofit agency that trains low-income minority youth for jobs in the TV and movie industries. We’ll also take the train one day to tour the BBC studios in Birmingham, west of the city.

We’ll visit the Houses of Parliament, tour the Museum of Brands, meet with a group of U.S. journalism students who are also studying in London this summer, and take to the streets to document our learning experiences through photography. We’ll also make time for group dinners, some sightseeing, and whatever else comes our way through serendipitous cultural experiences.

I will do all this while getting paid as if I were teaching a summer session class on campus. Sounds too good to be true, right?

And to think that this trip has its roots in a popular Midwest game known as cornhole.

***

I wrote about the possibility of teaching internationally late last year, after I’d put together a syllabus and daily schedule at the invitation of Portland State University’s Education Abroad office and then gained the necessary approval of the Department of Communication.

Read “Media Literacy in London” here.

I had expected that recruiting 12-15 students would require a lot of time and energy and follow-up, but I never imagined the process would have so many ups and downs and discouraging moments.

Initially, dozens of students expressed interest and asked for more information, and a handful of them immediately opened a formal application. As the months went by, the number of serious applicants rose and fell as students backed out, some out of concern over the program cost and others because they landed a summer job or internship.

It was touch-and-go, but ultimately Portland State and a partner organization called CAPA, a Boston-based company that works with universities on international programs, gave the go-ahead with 6 students in late May.

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The students — four women, two men — met each other for the first time at an orientation session last week and we have another meeting planned in early July. I can see now that having a smaller group than originally planned is going to be just fine. Even with just six, there are enough challenges coordinating schedules and communicating among ourselves.

Five of the students are from Portland State; one is from Washington State University Vancouver, where I also teach. Though some have previously traveled to Canada, India, Peru, New Zealand and the Dominican Republic, it’s the first time in London for all of them — just like me.  We’ll be there July 16th to July 30th.

***

I’m still tweaking the syllabus and daily schedule of activities, but the overall purpose is clear. This will be an immersive experience for both students and professor as we roam the city, meet with experts in all communications fields — journalism, PR, advertising, entertainment — and compare what we know of U.S. media to what we don’t yet know about the U.K. media.

None of this would be possible without the people in PSU’s Education Abroad office who provided encouragement, support and guidance at every step along the way.

Hannah Fischer is the Faculty-Led Program Coordinator and the one I’ve worked with most closely on matters ranging from recruitment to program budget and travel.

Adrienne Bocci is the program’s Graduate Assistant. (Well, actually she’s just finished her masters in Educational Leadership & Policy and is moving on.) She sat in on some student interviews and information sessions with me. and was a big help to students as they filled out their applications.

Jen Hamlow is the director of the Education Abroad program. And this is where the cornhole connection comes in.

hannah-jen 2

Hannah Fischer, left, and Jen Hamlow of Portland State’s Education Abroad office, provided encouragement and support for my London teaching proposal.

Four years ago, a mutual friend, Leroy Metcalf, recruited both of us and another woman to join his four-person coed team during a six-week season played at a Buffalo Wild Wings in Northeast Portland.

Cornhole is basically an indoor version of horseshoes. Instead of pitching metal shoes at an upright post, players toss beanbags, filled with raw corn kernels, at a small, sloping target made of wood and set on the floor. Just as you earn points in horseshoes for a “ringer” or a “leaner,” you get points in cornhole if your beanbag drops into a hole cut into the wood or blocks your opponents from doing so.

We all had fun and went our separate ways. But then last year, when I was preparing to begin a new job as internship coordinator in the PSU Communication Department, I heard from Jen. We met for coffee and she explained how her office helps students obtain international internships — and then she went on to ask if I’d ever considered teaching internationally.

“Huh? Me? How? When? Where?”

Jen told me that it was pretty much up to me. Along with regular professors, adjunct instructors like myself can submit a so-called faculty-led proposal for whatever and anywhere they want to teach, including course title, location and duration. And just like that, the seed was planted. Now it’s borne fruit and I’m preparing for a two-week adventure like nothing I’ve experienced before.

Thank you, Leroy, for inviting me to play cornhole. Never would have met Jen otherwise. Never would have had this opportunity.

 

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Notes from a greenhorn teacher

Clark-chime tower

The Clark College campus in Vancouver, Washington, features a chime tower — its bells hidden within an imposing red-brick fountain pen with a silver tip.

By Gosia Wozniacka

At the start of my Journalism 101 class, a student’s mother committed suicide. The news arrived via two brief emails — one from a counselor at the college where I was teaching, another from the student.

I was stunned, devastated, unsure how to respond. The act of self-destruction, a chasm, jettisoned into my novice classroom. How would this student get over losing a mother and study simultaneously? How should I help? Was I equipped to do this?

A greenhorn teacher, I had just three months of adjunct teaching experience under my belt. I had spent the past 15 years working as a full-time journalist, a staff reporter for The Oregonian and then The Associated Press. I had in the past taught high school students in classrooms and workshops, but teaching college called for a different level of expertise. I had wanted to try it for a long time, and when a part-time position opened up at Clark College in Vancouver, Washington, I took it on.

Teaching college journalism, I thought, would consist of transmitting to students my real-life experience of a working journalist. I would inculcate in them the essentials of being a good listener and observer, asking open-ended questions, being skeptical, fact-checking and writing succinctly and with grace.

Yet I did not consider that these lessons would be just a scaffolding on which to thread a different kind of instruction; that the students would make me confront the tender flesh of being human and steer me to use my skills in ways I had not intended; that — though perhaps this is a truism, it’s one worth repeating — I would learn as much from them as they from me.

I liked to walk the college’s manicured, bird-filled campus. The cherry trees bloomed, weaving a carpet of pink under feet, and the chime tower — its bells hidden within an imposing red-brick fountain pen with a silver tip — punctuated the day.

I hurried with stacks of photocopies — “the art of interviewing”, “how to spot fake news”, etc. — to the basement classroom where I taught. As an adjunct, I didn’t have an office. I was paid only for the instructional hours, meaning that everything else I did was basically volunteering. And yet some of that unpaid time became most meaningful to me.

Clark-cherry blossoms

A familiar and favorite sight: blooming cherry trees on the Clark College campus.

After missing a single class for his mom’s funeral, my student returned. He was visibly distraught but determined to continue. We stayed after class and talked in the hallway. He didn’t look at my face but told me details about his mother’s death. I listened. I encouraged him, as I did in a previous email, to attend counseling, to seek out friends and family, to talk to me whenever he wanted.

We would work out a schedule for his late work. He could take time off as needed. I stumbled, wondering if I was saying the right things. I admired his tenacity, his desire —  bordering on desperation — to learn despite the circumstances. In the following weeks, he would sometimes stay after class and speak with me. At other times, he’d signal with his eyes, whisper an update (or not) and run for the door.

He wasn’t the only one who needed sympathetic ears. Several other students dealt with debilitating depression and other forms of mental illness.

One confessed he had recently changed medications and was struggling in his courses. He was easily distracted, he said, and his family life was in chaos — just like his writing, full of syntax and spelling errors. I often stayed after class to talk with him in the hallway. I shared contact information for the writing lab and the counseling center, and the link to a free online grammar spellchecker. I agreed to be his job reference. Though the news stories he wrote were tortuous to edit, he made a real effort and I appreciated it.

Another student had dropped out of high school and struggled with addiction, only to come back to college when he became a father. He said he had bigger dreams for his two-year-old daughter, whom he brought to class on several occasions when the babysitter fell through. She drew quietly while we discussed how to write a lead or structure a story. Her father, the student, asked a lot of questions. He planned to become a lawyer, and his work ethic, professional demeanor, and honesty were astounding.

I realized my students’ effort to connect, to show vulnerability, was the most important lesson I could learn and teach. Unscripted, raw conversations — moments no one paid me for, no one required of me, that had, on the surface, nothing to do with journalism – made this job relevant.

When a student confessed she had secured an important interview but was terrified to go through with it, we practiced. She was shy, a little socially awkward, she admitted, but I knew she had done impeccable research on her news story when she timidly slipped a list of detailed questions over my desk. Later, she told me she had nailed the interview.

On other days, daily life brought out the emotions. Another student who was a great writer once approached me before class. When I saw her ashen face, I led her into the hallway, where she immediately burst into tears. She explained her dog had just died and she needed to go home, but didn’t want to miss class. I gave her a hug, fetched her backpack, and told her that her absence would be excused.

I often shared with students something personal about myself: that despite being a successful reporter, I, too, was a rather shy and calm person. But this shyness didn’t prevent me from doing my work. It was, in fact, a weapon, a negative-turned-asset that helped with my reporting and writing.

I remembered what one student had written in her self-reflection, the first class assignment: “I am taking this journalism class to help me with my communication skills and social anxiety. I came from a poor home and neither of my parents went to college. I came to Clark to prove my worth and make a difference in my family…”

Only a handful of my students had said they wanted to become reporters — they aspired to be pilots, musicians, fiction writers, librarians, nurses, lawyers, business owners and teachers — but they all saw a benefit in learning about journalism. Some struggled financially, working full time to pay for college tuition and missing out on a social life.

Some were high school students — Clark College has a special program for those who want to get an early start on post-secondary education. Others hailed from very small towns — Vancouver, Washington represented a big city move for them. They were the first in their family to attend college, or one of ten or seven siblings. A few came to the U.S. from another country or had immigrant parents.

Though both of my parents were well educated (they were the first generation to attend college in their families), we were immigrants to this country. I had learned English as a teenager and knew about not fitting in. So while I felt happy when my outspoken students engaged in smart rhetoric, it was a million bucks day when a more reserved student volunteered an answer or when a working student or student with significant life problems continued showing up.

I asked them — no matter their challenges — to go a little beyond their comfort zones. But also to use their own personalities, interests and even challenges in the act of journalism.

I tried to treat them as reporters capable of doing real, impactful work. And though giving them feedback on multiple story drafts was extremely time-consuming, as was the copy editing, seeing their stories edited and published was rewarding.

Except sometimes it wasn’t.

When I failed my first student, I wrote him an email, profusely apologizing and explaining I was left with no other choice. He was one of my best writers but did not turn in the final project, a feature story.

To my dismay, there would be others. Some stopped showing up mid-way through the term. Others never finished reporting or writing their news stories. A few attended every single class but didn’t do any work. They didn’t respond to emails. I spent days wondering why they didn’t show up or submit an assignment — or why they had shown up but submitted nothing. Those whom I failed didn’t lack talent — they just stopped communicating about whatever it was that stopped them from completing their class work.

These disappearing acts were hard to accept. But a former professor and journalist helped me see them differently. It’s OK to fail, he told me; we all must learn how to do it. Sometimes, he explained, students needed to screw up. They needed to just sit through the class, even if they didn’t pass it. Some would take the class again and do well, others wouldn’t. Or they’d realize they needed extra help or a different approach to college.

Gosia Wozniacka

Gosia Wozniacka

Teaching, then, wasn’t so much about transferring knowledge as about helping students see their own selves and figure out how they functioned. It was about nudging them to become comfortable in a complicated world, even if that world wouldn’t include journalism.

On my last day of classes, I meandered into the campus green. Groups of students milled around the red-brick chime tower — I now knew some of them. I felt a sadness about the finish line, despite being utterly exhausted. As a part-time adjunct professor with two classes to teach, I had worked longer hours than I had for most of my journalism career.

I often stayed up past midnight preparing lesson plans and grading student stories. Yet, despite the negligible pay, the lack of health insurance and unemployment benefits, the experience was worth it. I’m thankful to my students for being open with me and for sharing their vulnerabilities. It was the most important lesson they could teach me about being a teacher.

Photographs: Gosia Wozniacka

***

Gosia Wozniacka is a freelance journalist and photographer. She was previously a staff reporter for The Associated Press and The Oregonian. Gosia was born in Poland and often travels to her native country. She taught journalism and digital reporting at Clark College from January to June 2017.

Email: wozniacka@gmail.com

Twitter: @GosiaWozniacka

Editor’s note: I’ve known Gosia for about 10 years, dating back to when she was a student at UC Berkeley’s graduate journalism school. This piece tells you all you need to know about the personal qualities and reporting and writing skills that prompted me to recruit Gosia to The Oregonian. In the past year, we’ve met from time to time to share our teaching experiences and strategies. Who would have guessed we’d wind up teaching a few miles apart in the same city? She at Clark College and me at WSU Vancouver.

Tomorrow: Mary Pimentel, Monster

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.

psu-welcome

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

Vancouver, U.S.A.

wsu2

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.

wsu.strat com panel

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

wsu-textbook

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.

wsu.banner

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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

 

Live from Portland!

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A Washington, D.C., crowd settles in for a performance of Pop-Up Magazine. (Photo by Jon Snyder. Courtesy: Pop Up Magazine)

As much as I enjoy books and movies, there’s something special about seeing a story come to life in real time, right in front of your eyes.

Twice in recent weeks I was able to take in a live performance. And both experiences left me wishing I had the time and budget for more.

Three weeks ago, I went with a friend to see a touring show called Pop-Up Magazine. It was exactly as advertised — a live version of traditional magazine content, presented in Portland by the authors themselves as part of a five-city winter tour.

A week earlier, Lori and I went to see a play performed in a spare, intimate space by a cast of two. The story revolves around a Latino teenager who leaves home to get away from his homophobic father and encounters another boy at a LGBT homeless shelter, sparking an unexpected relationship.

In both cases, the motivation to buy tickets came from the Media Literacy class I’ve been teaching at Portland State. I’ve encouraged my students to broaden their media consumption beyond favorite websites and social media feeds — and many of them have done just that. So it seemed only fair that I should do the same. Much to my delight, two shows popped up at the same time on my calendar.

The Pop-Up Magazine provided an opportunity to finally see a show at Revolution Hall, a renovated space that once was the auditorium at now-closed Washington High School.

Meanwhile, the two-man play gave me a chance to get reacquainted with Teatro Milagro (Miracle Theater), a company that’s been producing bilingual works for more than 30 years in Southeast Portland.

***

Teatro Milagro was part of a date night.

Lori and I had a light dinner during happy hour at a neighborhood restaurant, then motored over to the theater. We had plenty of time so we checked out a nearby place called Lantern, which bills itself as a French Vietnamese cocktail bar.  Nice!

Back at the theater, it was closing night of “Swimming While Drowning,” written by playwright Emilio Rodriguez and directed by Francisco Garcia. A small but appreciative crowd got into the story of teenagers Angelo (Michel Castillo) and Mila (Blake Stone), both estranged from their families and seeking a way forward.

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Original postcard artwork for “Swimming While Drowning”

What follows is a coming-of-age story, with touches of humor, romance, spoken word poetry and self-revelation. It always amazes me how a static set and minimal props, combined with skilled acting and the willingness to suspend disbelief, can all add up to a captivating story brought to life.

Pop-Up Magazine was, by contrast, a much larger production in a much larger space.

My friend David Quisenberry joined me on a Tuesday night as we caught the one and only Portland performance of 11 pieces billed as “A night filled with bald eagles, bad grades, blind dates” and more. The evening showcased the work of journalists, filmmakers, photographers, poets and other storytellers.

Instead of flipping through the pages of a magazine, you had these storytellers coming out solo or in pairs to read their work aloud, often with blown-up photos or videos above and behind them. The effect, for me, was one of authenticity.

Who better to deliver a tongue-in-cheek essay about one’s unattractive facial features than the owner of that “Picasso-esque” face? Who better to testify to the annoying presence of bald eagles in a remote Alaskan fishing port — where the locals refer to our majestic national symbol as “Dutch Harbor pigeons” — than the writer and photographer who spent some time up there on a reporting trip?

(Click on images to view details and captions)

In a review for PBS NewsHour, Elizabeth Frock explained Pop-Up’s genesis:

The magazine began in 2009 in San Francisco as a sort of experiment. Could a series of shows, structured like a magazine and performed live by journalists, pack performance halls across the country?

It turns out it could. It’s filled auditoriums and theaters in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York, among other places. A physical magazine, California Sunday, has also grown out of the show.

Read the article here: How a pop-up magazine experiment is turning journalism into performance art

There was an added incentive for me to catch this March 7 show. One of the performers was Kelley L. Carter, a senior writer at ESPN whom I’ve known since we met on the recruiting trail in the ’90s. She was a promising journalism student at Michigan State and I was representing The Oregonian when our paths crossed at the Spirit of Diversity job fair in Detroit.

Kelley did a powerful piece entitled “1991” —  a year that she contended was both the best and worst year ever for black America.

I got a chance for a quick hug and hello after the show. Kelley, after all, had flown into Portland that day and was operating on East Coast time, so I knew her energy was flagging. Still, it was fun to see her and also offer congratulations to a couple other performers who happened by.

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After the show with Kelley L. Carter

The next morning, I gushed about this novel way of multimedia storytelling. Where my boomer generation grew up primarily with two-dimensional media (print, TV and radio), today’s college students and other consumers, for that matter, are blessed with an abundance of video and interactive material on digital platforms. And now this — live storytelling presented within a journalistic framework. Genius.

Back to PBS’ Frock for a final insight:

It’s important to note that Pop Up Magazine is gaining ground as most national magazines are struggling for readers, forced to slash newsstand prices or shut down all together. But in many ways it seemed that it wasn’t just format of the night that made the magazine something special, but the quality of the stories it put out. Almost every performance was carefully-structured, deeply reported and, in some way, surprising.

Can’t wait until this tour comes through again.

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

 

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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?

 

Barack, Michelle and a foot of snow

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Heavy, wet snow accumulated rapidly in Portland overnight.

Woke up precisely at 4:21 a.m. today. It was dark and it was quiet. It was also gorgeous. A lush carpet of freshly fallen snow blanketed everything I could see up and down the street.

Never in my 30-plus years of living in Portland have I ever seen this much snow fall in a single day or night. It’s like a holiday greeting card: treetops and limbs wrapped in white, parked cars buried under the stuff, not a soul stirring in the silence.

At this hour, I’m alone with my thoughts:

— President Obama’s farewell speech is still resonating in my heart and soul. His simple yet forceful call to keep working for the common good, to guard against threats to our democracy, was masterful in its simplicity. I’m sad to see him leave office but I hope his parting words inspire millions to action.

“Our youth, our drive, our diversity and openness, our boundless capacity for risk and reinvention means that the future should be ours. But that potential will only be realized if our democracy works. Only if our politics better reflects the decency of our people. Only if all of us, regardless of party affiliation or particular interests help restore the sense of common purpose that we so badly need right now.”

— I’m equally sad to see Michelle Obama come to the end of her eight years in the White House. A piece in The New York Times asked whether she will speak with a fuller voice after she is freed of the confining role of First Lady.

” As first lady, she used hints, invitations, art, sometimes even clothing to convey her viewpoint. If she mostly avoided controversial topics, her mere presence spoke volumes, and was there really any mistaking the fundamentals of what she believed?”

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One of a kind: Michelle Obama.

I, for one, hope this Harvard-trained lawyer and “mom-in-chief” will unleash the power of her intellect and empathy in continuing service to her values and to the ideals that make us better. As the Times’ Jodi Kantor points out: ” The world has only one observant, original, wildly popular African-American first lady, and for her to hoard her ideas and views would be a waste.”

— I’ll confess that one of the first things I did at this hour was to reach for my iPhone to see if the internet connection was working. I clicked onto OregonLive and there I saw the headline “Storm drops up to a foot of snow on Portland: 8 things you need to know.”

Sure, the headline is formulaic. But those 8 things gave me all the information I needed to know about accumulation, melting, school closings, bus service, etc., in a simple and concise format.

 

More to the point, I wondered how many people would pause to consider that two journalists — my former colleagues Jim Ryan and Margaret Haberman — were up ridiculously early pulling together the information for that 4 a.m. post. Readers often don’t give a thought to what’s involved in presenting timely and useful information, no matter the hour.

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View from our living room at 7:30 am.

I know from experience there’s an expectation that no matter what the weather, the newsroom stays open and people get there one way or another to cover the news of the day. It’s entirely possible that in this case Jim and Margaret did their reporting from home.

But, still, on a day when schools and colleges are shuttered, when city bus service is cut back, and all kinds of businesses close for the day, journalists at OregonLive and in other newsrooms around the city will be rising to the challenge, bringing us another day of news that we consume in the comfort of our homes.

Photograph: Lora Huntley, The Oregonian/OregonLive

Photograph: The Associated Press

The amazing Brenda Tracy

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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.”

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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.

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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.