Before Mort Rosenblum reported on international wars, joined the Associated Press, or received eight Pulitzer Prize nominations, he attended the University of Arizona as a young Tucsonan. Now, after more than half-a-century of journalism, Rosenblum is taking to teaching local citizens
about news literacy, and how to find out what’s going on in these complex times.
How did a professor of journalism get involved in teaching to the public? Are you tired of college students?
No, no, it’s the other way around. I started out at the University of Arizona back in 1831 or whenever, and I started working for the Star, then I joined the Associated Press in 1965. Then a couple years later I found myself in the Congo… I was covering a mercenary war in the middle of Africa. But at one point, when I was running the International Herald Tribune in Paris, I got asked do come back and do short courses teaching during summer vacation, and I really liked that. But then in 2004 when I finally left the Associated Press, I was asked to come back and do a short course in international reporting, and that to me is the most important thing I do. Because if we old crocs don’t pass along what we’ve learned the hard way to new generation of reporters that have better tools and often much better skills than we did, things are gonna get lost.
How much freedom did you have in crafting this course, and what are you going to do to ensure it’s not just a seminar or a lecture?
For one thing, I fall asleep in seminars and lectures, so I’d probably fall asleep while doing one. So what I’m going to do is engage an audience, I’ve got some incredible footage and interviews I’ve already done… There will be some lecture and explanation but there will also be lively back-and-forth discussion, there will be video clips, Skyped and taped interviews with people who do the news. So it’s not just me sitting and talking.
What is news literacy?
News literacy is a term someone came up with, and I wouldn’t use... But to be news literate, you need good solid sources to start with: a daily, The Times, The Post, The Guardian. You need to have television sources which take you to a story in certain ways – you get to see the faces and hear the words… So once you have an understanding of what the real-world problems are, the real crises in the world, and once you have an idea of how they fit together, essentially once you open a world map and look at it, then it doesn’t actually take much time to follow the major changes.
Do you think there’s a difference between when you started college and the college students of today, or any seekers of knowledge today?
There’s a huge difference. Today, we have this “Tower of Babble,” words are everywhere. And so the good stuff is better than ever, if you know how to find it. But it’s like looking for nuggets in a garbage can… So the trick is to find those basic, solid sources you trust, individuals more than organizations these days. Give yourself a basic framework, and then go from there. Otherwise you’ll just get drowned out.
Can a person nowadays truly know what’s going on in the world?
A person can know what a person doesn’t know. Truly know? No. But know more than people who just make it up or just listen to what some clown politician tells them? Yeah. And so my purpose for this course is to help people inform themselves with solid reliable sources, about what’s happening now and what’s likely to happen. When you study journalism, the old questions are who, what, where. But the important ones are why, and what next?