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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Friday, April 20, 2007

Peace at the end of a dark week

In a week askew with tragedy in Virginia — and yet again in Iraq, our Friday evening peace vigil at Sunset Boulevard and Capitol Highway seemed a kilter too.

The usual steadfast stream of evening commuters motored by, of course. Because the spring sun was still bright in a clear sky, I paid closer attention to what the home-bound drivers were doing behind their wheels.

Free of slapping windshield wipers and dapples of rain, they too seemed more aware of us, the eleven peace vigilers staked out on the four corners of Hillsdale’s busiest intersection.

We got more honks than usual—easy toots for peace.

Across the street, the coltish ballerinas pranced and pirouetted behind the glass doors of the old garage turned modern dance studio.

A few high school guys, a military recruiter’s dream, hung out at the Union 76 gas station/food mart. Once, 10 years ago, a real mechanic changed oil and filters there; he didn’t sell lattés and Doritos.

We, largely a gray-haired lot, brandished our peace signs so that the loitering boys wouldn’t have to fight for oil and Union 76 in some distant, searing desert.

We got a lot of support from passers-by, but a burly, goggled biker on a growling, bronze and buff Harley flipped me off with a raised, black-leathered middle finger.

Glad he saw me, I thought.

No, the truly dangerous commuters were the multi-taskers on cell-phones who felt compelled to talk AND flash us the V—with the one remaining hand that should have been on the wheel.

The sign in front of the high school announced that the “community clean-up” scheduled for tomorrow has been canceled. No room on the sign for a reason. Could our community, like an oven, now be self-cleaning? If only.

The best news is that Jerrod, the Hillsdale Marine stationed in Iraq, is wending his way home aboard a ship cruising to Australia.

I got the word from his grandmother, a vigil regular. Safe though Jerrod is, she continues to come, hoisting the “Honk for Peace” sign I gave her back in February when 6 p.m. was dark and cold and sodden.

Her presence inspires us to keep our Friday vigil at Sunset and Capitol, to insist that all our Jerrods—and Janes—be brought home in the name of peace.

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Thursday, April 19, 2007

Persistence lines Capitol Highway with new trees

The city recently planted trees along a two-block long stretch of Capitol Highway's south side between Nebraska and Vermont.

But the plantings would not have happened without the vigilance and persistence of Hillsdale community leader Wes Risher.

Nearly two years ago Risher reminded city officials that the then nine-year-old Southwest Capitol Highway Plan called for street trees that never had been planted.

Then he noted that the planned Naito Parkway reconstruction downtown called for the removal of several trees. Such tree removal requires mitigation for the arbor loss. So Risher put the question: What better place to mitigate than along the tree-neglected Capitol Highway?

And that is why we now have young trees that will one day shade and grace the busy street as it it climbs the hill west of the Bertha viaduct.

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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

A transfer of spirit

The inevitable rows of photos of Virginia Tech victims are starting to appear. In the text and narrations we learn of talent, virtue, ambition and promise taken—of futures snuffed out.

Each of us grieve the loss in our own way. But my grief has jogged me into realizing how rarely in the course of our lives we stop and allow ourselves to feel grief's opposite—celebration and joy about those around us still in the very fullness of life.

I walked onto the Sylvania campus of Portland Community College on Tuesday feeling ever so slightly anxious, as if this community were just a little more vulnerable to a perverse madness.

But in my class, I scanned the faces of my own students with renewed appreciation. I saw in them much of what I witness in those portraits in the media. I saw in my students the same promise and the goodness that was lost in Blacksburg. In my classroom and on the PCC campus, thankfully, all are very much alive and safe—still brimming with promise.

Certainly with time, an antidote to our grief over terrible loss can be a celebration and nurturing of life and all it offers us in our time.

I’d like to think that the spirit and promise of the Virginia Tech victims are not gone but instilled now in us, the living—that they inspire us to flourish in, share and celebrate the virtues and talents we have been granted in this life.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Ten media commandments

Richard Austin Thompson, a retired Presbyterian Church pastor, has taken up the cause of media literacy and put it in a theological context.

As a Volunteer-in-Mission as Media Literacy Resources Coordinator for the Office of Communication of the General Assembly Council, PC (USA), Thompson has created Ten Media Commandments to accompany each of the Ten Commandments of the Old Testament.

They seem a stretch at times, but here they are juxtaposed.

Judge for yourselves:

ONE: “You shall have no other gods before Me.”

1. Thou shalt have no media power higher than God.

TWO: “You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.”

2. Thou shalt worship no electronic image.

THREE: “You shall not take the name of the Lord. your God, in vain.”

3. Thou shalt not view programs that trivialize God.

FOUR: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.”

4. Thou shalt take sabbaths from TV viewing.

FIVE: “Honor your father and your mother.”

5. Thou shalt view programs that honor families.

SIX: “You shall not murder.”

6. Thou shalt not view programs depicting gratuitous violence.

SEVEN: “You shall not commit adultery.”

7. Thou shalt not view programs depicting promiscuous sex.

EIGHT: “You shall not steal.”

8. Thou shalt not view programs disrespectful of persons/property.

NINE: “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”

9. Thou shalt subject broadcast claims to a truth test.

TEN: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.”

10. Thou shalt not covet what thou seest on TV commercials.

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Monday, April 16, 2007

Media fast leads to introspection

Each year in my “Visual Communication in the Media” course at Portland Community College, I assign a “media fast” of a day or two to my students and ask them to reflect on the experience in a short paper.

The results are in from this year’s fasts, and, as in the past, they are fascinating.

The biggest change this year is that several students specifically mentioned that the medium they found easiest to let go of was television.

NOT, interestingly enough, newspapers. Not that all of them read newspapers (most get their news on-line), but those that do missed the ritual of reading the morning paper.

So here are some of the more telling comments from the written reflections:

A student who admits “the media are a huge part of everyday life” for him wrote, “I exercised much more when I didn’t have media to entertain me. The fast from media gave me a new outlook on things.”

One student. a golf fan, turned to his father to fill him in on the standings in the forbidden Master’s Tournament. That “resulted in my having a very long talk with my father, who had no such media restrictions, about what was going on in the tournament. This talk led into other areas and soon became one of the nicest I have ever had with my Dad.”

Another student said the media fast “was a chance to remember who you are as a person and (it was) a way to get back to the more important things like family, friendship and the ‘real’ you.”

One student was riding in a car with a friend who went to turn on the radio. My student stopped her, reminding her of the fast. “After that, instead of playing music or turning on the radio, we stated singing in the car.”

Later, this student, her friend and others played board games. “We played for two hours, then we got coffee and cake and we were all talking to each other. It was truly amusing.” The same student wrote, “I felt that I listened to people more than I usually do. I also talked more….”

Another wrote: “I went to the park of at least four hours and played. My senses were amazing. I felt more in touch with nature.”

Yet another wrote, “Spiritually, I started to look at how I spent my time and analyzed it. I thought about how much I am a slave to media and how I could correct the problems.”

That’s enough.

You — and they — get the picture….

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Sunday, April 15, 2007

Kim Osgood wins a TV-B-Gone at Hillsdale Farmers Market

In the run-up to TV Turnoff Week, (April 23-29) I staged a contest in today's Hillsdale Farmers Market. It took the form of an eight-question, multiple-choice quiz. The contestant with the best score won a much-prized TV-B-Gone.

The winner was Kim Osgood, co-owner of Paloma Clothing and well-known Portland artist.

There was some good news and bad news about the other results. I'll get to that after I share the quiz with you. Try your hand at it.

Here it is:

Test your Media Literacy knowledge

1. How much TV does the average American watch each day?

2 hours 3.5 hours 4.5 hours 6 hours

2. What percentage of Americans eat their dinners with the TV on?

30 percent 40 percent 50 percent 60 percent

3. The average child under the age of 3 watches how much TV a day?

1 hour 2 hours 3 hours 4 hours

4. The American Academy of Pediatrics says its OK for a child under the age of two to watch how many hours of TV each day?

0 hours 1 hour 2 hours 3 hours

5. A child’s chance of being overweight increases 6 percent for every….

1 hour increase of average daily TV consumption 2 hours… 3 hours…

6. For every hour increase of average TV watched daily, a child’s chances of developing attention-related problems later increase by….

1 percent 4 percent 5 percent 1 0 percent

7. The average child spends more time watching screens than

being in school sleeping playing outdoors each one of these

8. Assuming that an American’s life expectancy is 80 years how many full years will he or she spend watching TV in a lifetime?

5 years 10 years 12 years 15 years 20 years

OK, now for the good news and that bad news. Perhaps the most important question on the quiz is #4, about the American Academy of Pediatrics' recommendation for kids under two. The good news is that slightly over two/thirds of the 34 test takers got the answer right: the AAP recommends ZERO screen time for the very little ones.

The bad news, of course, is that 11 quiz takers got it wrong.

The real shocker for a lot of testtakers was that the average American spends 15 FULL years in front of a TV. One young quiz taker, who happened to be 15 years old, was astonished. "That means every moment I've been alive!"


The other answers are: 1. 4.5 hours, 2. 40 percent, 3. 2 hours 5. 1 hour, 6. 10 percent, 7. each one of these (note that it says "screen time," which includes text messaging and video games).

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