Media Professionals’ Role in Social Change

In Uncategorized on November 24, 2009 at 9:38 am

“The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.”

— Fyodor Dostoyevsky

The cultural, social and environmental impact of globalization’s effects on the national and international arenas becomes more visible every year with an increased global mass migration, poverty and incarcerated population. Poverty and social inequality are key developmental challenges for the twenty-first century’s world society. In these terms, what is the role that media professionals play in social change?

This question was on my mind while attending the “Prisons and People: A Focus on Women and Their Children” conference hosted by the Portia project at the University of Oregon School of Law on Nov. 20, 2009. In the same week, I attended two keynotes of guest speakers Simon Mainwaring and Rishad Tobaccowala hosted by the School of Journalism and Communication at the University of Oregon. In both events, panelists envision the future from different perspectives.

Two different worlds united in a disturbing reality.

According to Roy Walmsley World Prison Population List 2006, the United States of America has the highest rate of incarceration population in the world with an incarcerated population of nearly two million people in its prisons.

These statistics and demographic studies bring to light what Scott Christianson a journalist  specializing in the U.S. correctional system and American history calls “…a paradox of a country that prides itself on being the citadel of individual liberty yet imprisons more of its citizens per capita than any other nation in the world.”

In Oregon, there are 36 jail facilities in 36 counties with a rated capacity of 7,666. In 2007, there were 43,732 probationers and 22,658 parolees. According to the 2007 report of the Office of Economic Analysis Report, in Oregon the total prison population has jumped by more than a third since 1999 and the female prison population is growing at twice the rate of the male population.”  Incarcerated people and their families are also one of the many pieces of our fragmented audience.

Coffee Creek Correctional Facility — Wilsonville, OR 97070

The corrections counselor at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility, Jon Hansen, explained that poverty, physical and mental problems; physical, sexual and emotional abuse; as well as substance abuse issues are the primary set of factors that contributes to woman’s criminal behaviors and the increased of women population in the criminal justice system. Hansen also reported that “96% of female inmates will be released back into Oregon communities,” most of them don’t have a place to go.

Portillo’s story and “A Sentence for Two,” a video of formerly incarcerated mothers tackled issues related of how we as a society deal with “criminal behavior.” Civilization has long ago been fascinated by prisons and panoptic ideas of controlling and regulating behavior. We isolate people, situations and environments that make us feel uncomfortable. We massively store people in jails without understanding that the real problem in is not criminal behavior but other factors including social inequality, poverty and limited access to education.

Accordingto John Berger, an influential radical Marxist art critic, argues in his essay “Ways of Seeing” that “the ways we have learned to look at and understand the world and the images that surround us are the result of a culturally learned behavior that teaches us to see things in the way we do.” Our mediated culture is facing the highest rates of incarceration and a lack of education.  A massive illiterate audience who learn from what they see in the media-saturated environments watching a mediated reality that rarely depicts actual reality.

Feeling this roller-coaster of emotions and receiving shocking data about people in prison and media industry evolution seemed like a a great time to reflect on our future as a society and take a close look at  the  social, cultural and environmental challenges our generation will face. Visualizing my own role  within this mess. I became aware of the aspect that media and communication is in the heart of social change. The School of Journalism and Communication guest speaker’s enlightening ideas resonated with the core of who we, media practitioners, are and what we do.

Tobbaccowala mentioned that “Changing the world is to understand people.” Mainwaring asserted that we are “emotion transportation systems.” These two quotes, reaffirm to me that a media practitioner’s role is to be the bridge that connects government officials, shareholders and community members. We live in a mediated culture, and our industry brings meaning to people’s lives in the shape of music, entertainment, news and advertising.

In this context, I believe that there is a huge responsibility on media professionals to consider social and cultural consequences of a mediated culture. Although nobody knows what the future is going to be like, we all agree that we have to become more human. As Prof. Deborah Morrison called,  “a beautiful irony.”

In our future, according to our panelists Mainwaring and Tabbacowala, technological evolution makes possible “transparency” and gives media consumers “God-like” powers. Hopefully, these futuristic visions will help young media professionals to make possible a more balanced world where corporations support social transformation in our communities by helping to empowering to the less-liked population to have access to education, health care and a sustainable socioeconomic stability.

As media professionals, I believe, we have to care about issues related to human rights, power relations,  media misrepresentation of popular culture and exploitation of cultural stereotypes. I think that the media professional’s role has to evolve to a role of cultural communicator, who is student and teacher. I assume that it is our job to research, learn, understand, teach and communicate the social and environmental impact of the entire process of the products and services we represent. I passionately believe that our individual contribution can empower a long-lasting transformation.


When good intentions are not enough

In Uncategorized on November 3, 2009 at 7:25 am


When good intentions are not enough

"Learning from others' mistakes"

Oral communication can easily be misunderstood, although for centuries ancient civilizations built their systems of beliefs based on the sacredness of the spoken word. Time has passed and the sacredness of our spoken word has dissipated. Most of the time, people rely on other good-hearted people’s support without knowing that sometimes good intentions are not enough. So, how to avoid a serious misunderstanding?

Since verbal agreements can easily be misunderstood, the only medium that will protect interested parties rights is a signed contract.

A short time ago, I was involved in a dispute with a professional photographer over privacy rights and copyrights. Everything started when this photographer offered to help us out by taking pictures of a fundraising  event we organized.

It just seemed right to let the photographer do her job. In truth, it was a relief. However, everything became complicated. In our verbal agreement, the photographer said that she didn’t offer to share the pictures for free, but Briselda and I thought she said she will. The photographer sent a CD with 12 pictures and published the most attractive pictures of our event on her Web site without us knowing it. When we realized that the pictures exhibited on her Web site were pictures we had not even seen, we asked her if we could have those pictures too. Her answer was no because she expected us to buy those pictures from her. It was a shocking and infuriating situation because the event was a fundraising party.

Supposedly, everyone in that event was in some way supporting our cause and for some reason we believed it, but we were wrong. We tried to establish a dialogue with the other party in an attempt to resolve this issue, but we didn’t receive that warm help offered at the beginning.

Instead, we received subtle intimidation and a condescending attitude. Fearless and decided to defend our rights, we respectfully let her know that we were aware of our rights, and we presented our credentials as journalism students. In fewer than 24 hours, the misunderstanding was reported to the dean of the School of Journalism and Communication at the University of Oregon.

According to the photographer, she doesn’t want to share the pictures with us because she took the pictures when the party was over and in a public place.

Our argument is that although the restaurant that hosted our event was a public place, that night the restaurant was hosting a private party from 7 p.m. to 2 a.m., and it cost $10. The party fliers clearly exhibited these facts. In addition, the photographer was aware of these facts because we printed some fliers in her place of work, and she received a free ticket.

After talking with several journalism professors, I came to the conclusion that even though apparently we all wanted to help, our good intentions were not enough.

According to legal aid, we can legally fight this because we both have valuable arguments. However, I don’t want to fight about this because I believe (as well as the faculty I consulted with) that what we have here is a moral issue more than a legal issue. In summary, it is not what you do, but how you do it.

Unfortunately, not everything that is legal is ethical. According to the law, she has the right to exhibit her work. Ethically, she shouldn’t because she knows that she doesn’t have our consent to publish them.

We don’t have money to buy the pictures from her, but she also doesn’t have any signed document that allows her to profit from them. I still don’t understand why we have to be in a situation that is not benefiting her or us.

Sadly, I accept that I have to be more cautious and not believe that all people have good intentions. I am a young woman who is trying to be not just a good professional but also an ethical one. It is not my style to talk poorly about people, but I like to tell the truth and share stories where people can learn from others’ mistakes.

In this moment, we are getting ready to host our second event and we will get more pictures and cooler pictures, more than anything, this time we will protect ourselves with a signed contract that protects our agreements.

Personally, I have taken this frustrating experience as an opportunity to learn, and I hope she does the same.

Learning from my community to enrich my individual growth

In Uncategorized on November 2, 2009 at 5:53 pm

IMG_2802Every day is a blessing that comes with a new opportunity or a new challenge; however, a new day also gives us the opportunity to rectify our wrongs and strengthen our purposes. It’s as simple as that. It could be that I am optimistic, or it could be that in my everyday life I am able to visualize the many ways I can integrate my passion and my work with the people I care about.

For the last 11 years, it is how I live and what I do. Nobody pays me to care about people, but I feel tremendous self realization when I do that. On the path of embracing diversity, there are many ways to channel inspiration and passion.

Up to now this has been the epitome of my professional development. Helping others to achieve their dreams and being able to create spaces where our community can share experiences in a moment of healthy entertainment and spiritual joy has incredibly enriched my personal and professional growth.

Last Sunday, we hosted the Not-Too-Spooky Halloween: A ‘Dia de los Muertos’ celebration, a multicultural fundraising event to support Hispanic youth access to higher education. It was a four-hour event to celebrate life and death. It featured traditional “Dia de los Muertos” food and entertainment, including story telling, fire dancing and a community altar.

Community Altar

Community Altar

After the event ended, some people came to me and thanked us for the opportunity.  I received a couple of congratulation hugs. Suddenly, I felt a hug on my leg. I looked down and it was Mateo, a three-year old toddler. He was excited and with a big smile told me, “Thank you so much. I had lots of fun.” His little voice touched my heart and once again, I felt that beautiful feeling that tells me you are on the right track.

I am struck by how much this multicultural experience touched other people and myself. I headed home refreshed, renewed, and energized to continue my work.

This multicultural experience has affected me on different levels. Spiritually, my heart soars. Personally, I am blessed to have friends and colleagues who give me support, courage and understanding. Most importantly they believe in me. Professionally, I feel privileged to work with a group of local individuals and organizations that are passionate about multicultural and environmental awareness.movie time

Briselda and I are happy that our initiative has formed such a deep connection between our community and us. As I make the transition from student to alumni, the experience of helping Briselda to achieve her dream to become a journalist goes far beyond being able to use some practical PR tools and journalistic content. I think it is a deep emotional connection that will endure throughout my life because the most important professional development I have ever done is to learn to be more human.

“Community service isn’t about padding one’s resume; it isn’t about doing things so that one might be proud and arrogant about it. But it is the dawning realization of the greater understanding our humanity, our fragility and a greater appreciation of the great lives that so many of us lead and deem to be ‘normal’ – when it pretty much is extraordinary in its own respect relative to many other individuals around the world,”  — Alwyn Loh ‘09.