Saturday, April 21, 2007

Where public words go

As a journalist, I'm used to having my name in print. So when I become a named source in a story, as I was today, it's no big deal.

I'm pleased to be quoted accurately and in context.

Today's story was about TV Turnoff Week specifically and media's impact generally. It appeared in the Living Section of The Oregonian. Reporter Abby Haight used one thought of mine that the others she talked to apparently didn't make.

I noted how televisions (and all "screens" really) are powerful tools, and how we must use them constructively, not let them use us destructively.

I'm glad I mentioned that, especially if others didn't, and that she included it.

It was a good story.

I have a quibble. I don't describe myself as a "journalism professor," as she did. Generically I suppose that's what I am, at least some of the time. But in the hierarchical world of academia, the title "professor" implies tenure and academic distinction. I have neither.

I teach at Portland Community College from term to term. I have no hold on even my part-time employment. The administration can let me go at any time.

"Tenure" is a funny word. It works two ways. It means you are assured a job—that you have a "hold" on it. But often that security means the job has a hold on you. I have found my lack of tenure to be liberating, both for me and those who have hired me. We can both take it or leave it.

My students generally appreciate my efforts, but professorial "distinction" isn't a word that appears on my end-of-term evaluations. Several students have felt a certain "passion" in my teaching. If true, it is a guilty charge I gladly accept.

This all began as thoughts about a story in today's newspaper. It's hard to know what becomes of such stories. To write for mass audiences or allow yourself to be quoted is a leap of faith that you will touch some unseen reader or readers.

On rare occasions a reader will respond, commenting on the impact of something we have written or been quoted as saying. But for the most part, the writer's printed or speaker's quoted words all become part of the swirling mix of ideas that shape our existence.

And we hope for the best.

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