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Minding Our Business



Dispatches from May Travel Marathon

Dean Charles Bierbauer visited journalism and communications programs at six universities in China and two in Korea during a 15-day trip in May. The USC delegation, including three other deans, explored exchange opportunities for students and faculty. During his travels, Dean Bierbauer kept in touch with the College, sending the following dispatches:

Bejing--What Chinese Students Want to Know

Beijing Students

Media bias, television profits and Internet censorship are concerns on the minds of journalism students. Where? Here in Beijing.

I spoke to about 100 students each at Communications University of China and Tsinghua University on our first two days in Beijing. Officials at the two prestigious schools are opportunists. I asked for a meeting to discuss student and faculty exchanges and found myself booked for a lecture, perhaps an audition, on "Multinational Challenges of a Multimedia World." The ensuing dialogues--about two hours at each school--were enlightening.

The Chinese students were generally facile with English--Tsinghua's graduate program is taught in English. They asked good questions.

The curiosity about tv profits was by no means a Communist condemnation of the evils of commercial media. The CUC student wanted to know how CBS' "60 Minutes" makes so much money and how a Chinese magazine show might emulate that.

My discussion of Wikipedia as a participatory Internet endeavor elicited a student's complaint of China's poicy barring Wikipedia. I knew that and had not deliberately intended to provoke a political issue, but was impressed that the discussion was spontaneous and uninhibited. That would not always have been the case.

At both universities there is interest in generating student and faculty exchanges. With the Olympics coming here in 2008, Beijing will be an interesting laboratory for students in journalism and public relations. Advertising throughout Beijing has a bilingual cast that reflects China's economic strength. The city has a quite different appearance from what I saw 15 years ago.

Where we go from here will depend on the devilish details of assessing the Chinese programs, the interchangeability of their courses and ours, and the costs associated with exchanges.

Where I go from here is on to Chengdu. Have chopsticks, will travel.

Chengdu - The Gamecocks Meet the Bears

Great Wall

On Saturday we went to the Great Wall of China. Seven Gamecocks and seven million Chinese. I exaggerate perhaps only slightly. Only an hour's drive from downtown Beijing, the wall seems the place to go on a bright, breezy Saturday.

When I was a correspondent in Moscow, a joke circulated about a breathless report delivered to Leonid Brezhnev. "Comrade Secretary, the Chinese have put a man on the moon!" "How could they do that? China does not have a lunar rocket." "Shoulder to shoulder, Comrade Secretary."

That's about how the Chinese built their great wall. That's about how you visit it. Shoulder to shoulder. The mass of people squeezed through the stone bottlenecks working its way from tower to tower. After a while, the process became tedious. We yielded. The wall had held off the invader tourists.

The Great Firewall may not be as stolid when it comes to Internet invaders. The Internet is a growing power among younger Chinese. Click on Google or Yahoo here and you don't get the same search engine you do in the U.S. There is content that the Chinese don't want in broad circulation. But firewalls are a semipermeous membrane, sometimes even porous. More seeps through than you might think or want. Spam, for example. In time, the Internet may prove move effective than the Mongols at breaching walls.Pandas

Expect such flashes of contradiction when you visit China.

Chairman Mao's portrait still hangs at the entrance to the Forbidden City across from his mausoleum in Beijing. Here in Chengdu there is a giant Mao statue, the only one I've seen so far. But the ideology of 21st century China is commerce; its portrait is done in neon and billboards, Chinese and English.

And then there are the bears. At the most popular access point to the Great Wall there is a cluster of souvenir and food stalls that make Myrtle Beach and Cherokee look almost chic. A pair of drab, barren pits exhibit a dozen forlorn black bears for wall visitors to feed and tease. If anyone cares about the bears, it doesn't show.

Outside Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, a bamboo-curtained walkway at the Chengdu Research Base of Gaint Panda Breeding leads to the well appointed enclave of a about a dozen pampered pandas. The pandas have a steady supply of crunchy bamboo to eat and oohing and aahing visitors to amuse them. The research center extols the merits of preserving the species. (It's not altogether altruistic. China's rent-a-panda policy has officials at Zoo Atlanta rethinking the million dollar annual rental fee.)

You can hardly go to Beijing without visiting the Great Wall. If you happen to get to Chengdu, you would not want to miss the pandas. It's about more than tourism. To work with China, you have to have a grasp of its numbers and its markets. China can be as hard and forbidding as the few thousand miles of its Great Wall. It can be plush and appealing, much like its few thousand remaining pandas.

Next: Chengdu TV and Sichuan University. And a typhoon on a collision course with us in Hong Kong.

Chengdu - Convergence Sichuan Style


Chengdu TV—the regional broadcaster in the capital of China's Sichuan province--has six channels, four newly acquired radio stations, web, cable and a TV Guide style magazine. A candidate for Newsplex convergence training? You bet!

A delegation from Chengdu TV had hoped to come to South Carolina last year for a week at Newsplex. But the broadcaster found itself going through administrative changes, the radio acquisition and a move to new broadcast headquarters and had to put off the training. Now there is interest in a 2007 visit.

Our experience in multimedia training could benefit CDTV as it enters a new phase of China's approach to communications. Chinese media were once centrally dominated with little opportunity for entrepreneurship. That is changing, as are many facets of Chinese commerce. As we continue our discussions with CDTV, we want to look at not only multimedia journalism, but also advertising and media management, areas of interest to the Chinese.

We might not teach CDTV much about technology. Its new facilities are digital state-of-the-art. It has centralized its news operations and archives. Its master control can oversee ten programs. But it has not yet broken out of the single medium silos to find the synergies in its expanding operations.

I'm encouraged by discussions here that we can bring the Chinese to Newsplex. It would add a dimension to our experience training international journalists and add to the university's efforts to create links to China. Currently, the Moore School of Business has established a beachhead with the Chinese track of its IMBA program. Deans Joel Smith (Moore School), Les Sternberg (education) and Dennis Poole (social work) are also on this USC expedition, as is Provost Mark Becker. We're hopeful that a concerted university approach can generate opportunities for several USC colleges.

My other discussions have been with journalism and communications programs in Beijing, Chengdu and here in Hong Kong, with Shanghai to come. The goal is to open up avenues that could lead to student and faculty exchanges and collaboration. This is part of the effort Kent Sidel is heading to create more study abroad programs for undergraduates in the journalism school. A next step would be to start looking at LIS programs, such as Beijing University's library school.

All of this amounts to just first steps, but that's how Mao's long march started. The challenges for USC students coming to the East will certainly include language, though several of the programs do some teaching in English. Tsinghua University in Beijing has a very attractive campus. The Communications University of China, also in Beijing, has graduates throughout Chinese media. It's also where our Ran Wei is a guest professor.

We arrived in Hong Kong on Tuesday evening ahead of Typhoon Chanchu which now appears to be veering more toward the northeast. Though the typhoon was deadly in the Philippines, Hong Kong seems to be taking it in stride.

Hotel cable offerings on our itinerary have proven eclectic. There's the breadth of news and business channels—CNN International, BBC, Fox, CNBC, Bloomberg—but also the Chinese CCTV English service. The Chengdu hotel had a fashion channel that was mostly an unending sequence of runway models—"I am Natasha from Belorussia, and I love Fashion TV." One Spanish channel offered bullfighting at 7am. Steak with your eggs? Chinese TV's main broadcasts seem to have a lot of stylized drama and hyperactive variety shows.

No weather channel, though, and just when we need it.

Korea - Hold that Tiger; Hold the Phones


With a tiger mascot etched and emblazoned nearly everywhere, I might have been on the Clemson campus. The resemblance—if any—ends there at Korea University's spectacular campus.

For one thing, the KU campus is tucked away in a city of 11 million people, Seoul. For another, the largesse of some of Korea's largest corporations such as Samsung has made this one of the most technologically advanced campuses I've seen. A digital library and multimedia non-linear editing studios open to all students. You could probably bring in your garage band and edit your own videos. (If I told you about the spotless parking garage, I'd have faculty queuing for sabbaticals, so I'll leave that out.)

But as we are wont to say, education is not about buildings. What's been intriguing about this leg of the trip is that at both KU and EWHA Womans University there is strong interest in exchange programs for students and faculty and a particular desire to explore multimedia convergence.

And why not. Korea—and China, too—are multimedia experiences. The cell phone is ubiquitous. All seem to ring at once, much more cacophony than symphony. And the phone takes precedence to all else—conversation, meeting, translation and even meals. Cell phone etiquette will come later. Ran Wei's research on cell phone use in China could hardly be more on target. Ran has also been a long distance coordinator for a number of my meetings in China.

Sooyoung Cho has been my invaluable on site collaborator in meetings with administrators at the Korean universities. We've also run into one of our current students and a Korean Ph.D. student who will be joining us this fall. Small town. Sooyoung and I joined Dr. Sorensen and School of Social Work Dean Dennis Poole at a USC Alumni Association reception in Seoul. USC has a master's in social work program here, as well as a doctoral program in public health.

Our objective will be to assess the contacts I've been making and evaluate programs for possible exchanges and collaboration at undergraduate, graduate and faculty levels.

This trip has also introduced me to Cathay Pacific and China Eastern Airways. All flights have been quite good, on Boeing and Airbus fleets, with friendly flight attendants and full meals—no peanuts. An experience unknown since the demise of Pan Am.

I'd not been to Korea or China in about 15 years since the Father Bush administration.

Change is dramatic in both countries. Bigger, busier, brighter. Travel in China is reasonable, though not in Hong Kong. In a city where the only room to build is up, prices move accordingly. Seoul has also become expensive. The U.S. Army, which used to occupy a highly valued piece of downtown real estate, has moved to bases far out of town. The DMZ has not moved. It's still just 30-some miles to the north of Seoul.

On to Shanghai, now 13 days, six flights, five cities into the trip. Two days and three flights to go.

Shanghai - Journalists, Academics and Housewives


One of the Chinese deans at the international conference on journalism education pondered how to reconcile policy differences among Chinese and foreign journalism programs.

One of the Chinese grad students wanted to know, "Do you watch 'Desperate Housewives'?" She does.

Apples and oranges? Lychees and mandarins?

The Shanghai International Studies University sponsored a two-day International Conference for Journalism and Communication Deans to examine some of the issues we face, particularly in trying to internationalize our programs and perspectives. International, in the instance of this conference, means Australians and Americans, Oklahoma's Joe Foote and Florida's Terry Hynes among them.

There's no party line among the Chinese contingent. One young woman professor proposed a modest set of "indicators" to gauge a university's international engagement—convergence, faculty reputation, language proficiency—only to have her list dissed by one of the mandarins.

"Internationalization does not mean Americanization," the young woman also suggested, this time to general agreement.

There is high regard for American journalism and communications programs and the caliber of graduates we produce. Many of the Chinese deans are concerned about their students' level of preparedness, though internships and practical experience are on the increase.

Two problems seem evident. Journalists here are not held in particularly high public esteem. (Well, where are they?) Many practicing journalists lack journalism training. There is clearly a niche for professional masters programs. The Chinese have also focused primarily on turning out journalists and editors, but China's transition from a planned to a market economy points to a need for media management programs, too.

There is competition. An Australian academic administrator described education as his country's "fifth largest export market, ahead of steel." In a quasi-private enterprise, public Australian universities are working with for-profit facilitators to deliver programs to thousands of Chinese students, mostly through on-site programs in China. "Your problem," the Australian said, "is that you're thinking like academics."

There is also high interest in journalism/mass communications. In a candid keynote address, the chairman of the Chinese Association of Journalism and Communication Education lamented the explosion of programs to 661, nearly 200 of them only a couple of years old. "It's absolutely too fast," Prof. He Zihua told us, expressing concern that supply exceeds demand for journalism students.

This kind of conference would not have taken place fifteen years ago when I last visited China. The shadow of Tienanmen Square was still very long then. So while there were no solutions for international journalism education in the fortune cookies—in fact, there were no fortune cookies—the conference provided some eye-opening perspectives. A chance, too, to dispel some notions about 'Desperate Housewives.'


The Column

Charles Bierbauer

Minding Our Business is a column by Charles Bierbauer, dean of USC's College of Mass Communications and Information Studies and a former CNN and ABC News correspondent.

This column addresses issues faced daily by students, faculty, editors, news directors, public relations experts, and media managers about our professions.

We welcome feedback.

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