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Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Lost in translation

Okay, I know this headline is fast becoming cliché, but it really describes an experience I and several of my SPJ colleagueshad yesterday.

We met with a group of journalists from Siberia at John Carroll University. They are here through an exchange with the Cleveland International Program. After my experience in Korea, I jumped at the chance to have a chat with and learn from other foreign journalists. This was quite different in that we were speaking exclusively through a hard-working interpreter in a very structured environment.

I confess to feeling a bit uncomfortable with the format. We sat at opposing tables and provided information about First Amendment, ethics, journalism education and online media. I wanted to have a two-way conversation, but the language barrier proved tough and perhaps the structure was the best approach after all.

The Russian journalists were amazed that we could simply walk into a police station and ask to see the arrest log for the past 24 hours. They asked my colleague and good friend, John Ettorre, how he made money if he had no advertising on his Web logs. He had to explain that he makes a living by writing for other media. Many bloggers are hoping for future payoff.

The most difficult notion to convey was how journalists are educated in the U.S. Valentina Dobrynina, editor-in-chief of Tele-Mir, a newspaper in its formation stages, was trying to understand what things we taught those seeking to become journalists.

Sister Mary Ann Flannery, chair of the JCU Department of Communications, began by explaining that the first thing they must learn is to seek the truth and the larger social responsibility that bears. But that didn’t satisfy and Valentina, through our interpreter, said those are things you learn in church not school. That’s admittedly true, but we were after all sitting in a gothic-style reading room at a religious university.

We then talked about specific journalism subjects — reporting public affairs, covering government, etc., and the value of a liberal arts education, innate curiosity and a journalist’s need to know a little about a lot.

It wasn’t until a follow-up conversation that my colleague and friend, Jay Miller, was able to say what we should have said: That no amount of training and education can replace a reporter’s ability to speak truth to power. I’m not even sure if that will translate, but Jay’s explanation hopefully will: “But what it means is, the most well-educated person, maybe even the most skilled writer, will fail as a journalist unless he or she is willing to ask the most powerful person he or she knows the most disrespectful, most threatening questions. Such as: ‘Mr. President, is it true that you failed to complete your Air National Guard duty during the Vietnam War?’ Or ‘Mayor, is it true you put your brother on the city payroll and didn't require him to do any work?’ ”

More news on newsblogs
The venerable Poynter Institute has started a conversation with MSM (that's mainstream media for my family)leaders about the value of blogs on their sites. It’s a mixed bag of responses, but at least someone is having the conversation.

Once again, I’m going to point to my two favorite examples of MSM blogs. Joel Achenbach started Achenblog at the beginning of the year on the Washington Post. His pieces are light and entertaining and I’ve been so bold as to invite him to speak in Cleveland. His response: Wendy, hi, thanks so much. I don’t know when i'll be in cleveland again but i do like it there. maybe when i'm inducted in the rock and roll hall of fame??? Won’t hold my breath, but I won’t shut the window either. Why is it that daily newspaper reporters never use caps in e-mails? Puzzling...

And finally, since I confess to being a bit of an Anglophile, here's one of my favorites from The Guardian. Loved this ditty from Sean Clarke:

This morning, I thought it would be a terrific wheeze (Hah! Great word!) to write a post about biblical humour, inspired by this story about Italian researchers working on the subject. It put me in mind of an argument by David Chidester in his book Christianity: A Global History.

Chidester argues that much of Jesus's advice for life is subversive, if not downright cheeky. The idea, for example that if someone asks for your cloak you give him your shirt as well. Chidester says men in first century Palestine wore only two pieces of clothes; take off your shirt and you'd be starkers, which would be a good way of embarrassing anyone foolish enough to ask for your cloak. Not a sidesplitter, I know. Nobody around here thought it was funny either.

Then I thought about it a more, and discovered this article. It quotes the episode when Elijah challenges the worshippers of Baal to light a fire by appealing to their God. When nothing happens, Elijah taunts them thus: 'Cry aloud, for he is a god; either he is meditating, or he is busy, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is sleeping and must be awakened' (1 Kgs.18:27). Again, it's definitely sarcasm, and might be funny if properly delivered, but it's hardly Catch 22."

Anyway, my whole point in sharing these with you is that I think Cleveland needs to have this kind of fun, behind-the-scenes newsblog. It can work with either a single personality (ala Achenblog) or the community approach such as The Guardian. Brewed Fresh Daily is the closest thing we currently have thanks to the hard-working efforts of George Nemeth. But I would love to see the PD pick up on this idea as it relates to news and features. The underlying problem is that the PD’s site ( is too many things and I fear such a blog will get lost in the drivel. Too bad the PD doesn’t have its own site similar to so many other major dailies. Anyone know the story there?

This one’s for the girls
I don’t often do this on Creative Ink, but I’d like to point you to my reviewof “Meditations for Women Who Do Too Much” by Anne Wilson Schaef in today’s PD. (You’ll have to scroll down to the second review in the column.) Reason? I don’t know a woman today who doesn’t fall under the “doing too much” category and just want to share some of the wisdom in this book. Some of its complete crap, but much of it is worthwhile.

Today’s mantra: “It’s not that God didn’t give us all the time we need. It’s what we have done with time that is giving us a problem.”

Amen, sister. Need to get back to work, but since I haven’t moved since 8 this morning, think I’ll go for a run first. That’s what I’m doing with MY time. Or maybe I should dance?

VIRGO (Aug. 23-Sept. 22). There's music under your skin. Be a dancer. Dance vigorously to shake off the cords of embarrassment and the shackles of needing to fit in. You are accepted just as you are.

1 comment:

Linda said...

I've really enjoyed your column over the last few days. Are you coming to the Cleveland Meet-up?