By Joe Sheller / Guest Editorial
On Aug. 18, my photograph was on the front page of the Gazette.
I’ll forgive you if you missed it. I’m in the background of a picture of the Rev. Anthony Adawu, Mount Mercy University’s new chaplain, celebrating Mass. Right between a guy on the left and a woman with a checkered blouse, you might see a smudge of yellow – it is my shirt.
As a journalism professor, I train students to cover the news. Now and then, I have the experience of being in the news – sometimes as more than a yellow smudge. For example, I was quoted in an Aug. 20 front-page story in the “Mount Mercy Times” student newspaper. And on Aug. 19, I was interviewed for Mediacom’s “Newsleaders” program.
Those experiences are reminders of how it feels to be the subject of media attention. Have you been interviewed or taped? When you hear yourself via radio, view yourself on TV or read your words in a newspaper, does your media representation seem a bit “off?” Mine always does.
When it comes to radio and TV, it’s easy to understand why our media personas might seem like a stranger.
We don’t see or hear ourselves as others do – our own perception of the impression we make is a guess. When I speak, what I hear as my own voice is reverberating inside my head, and that echoing sound is different from what others receive. To me, I sound louder, deeper and more authoritative. When I hear myself in the media, I wonder who that squeaky-voiced alien is.
And while I glance in a mirror now and then, my customary view of myself is of two hands and a few other parts – maybe the tip of my nose. I’m not used to how I look.
It can be both less and more weird to encounter my quotes in print. Less awkward, because the printed words lack the sight and sound that makes TV or radio so peculiar; more awkward because the words seem incomplete when they lie there alone on the page. Was I joking? Was that said with a wink or through angry, gritted teeth? The printed quotations, even when they are accurate (and mistakes are common) seem an isolated part of a discourse whose full meaning is lost without everything else that went on.
This column, by the way, is not one of those strange media experiences. Although my words get edited, they are still mine. I write what I choose to write, which doesn’t “sound” odd to me.
What is peculiar is when others record or write about me.
Anyway, in the third week of August, I was in various Corridor media to talk about an exciting series of events at Mount Mercy University. The faculty presents a public Fall Faculty Series of events on a theme. Because 2015 is the 50th anniversary of the large-scale U.S. combat deployment in Vietnam and the 40th anniversary of the end of war, this year we are focusing on meaning of the war in Vietnam. The series is titled “Stories We Tell: Legacies of the Vietnam War.”
One particular event is going to be huge. A replica of the Vietnam Wall is coming to the Corridor. For four days, starting Sept. 17, Mount Mercy University will have a traveling model of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on campus. You’re invited to come see it.
And, if you want to see what I am like in person rather than via media, I am presenting at 7 p.m. Sept. 2 in Flaherty Community Room at Mount Mercy University as one of two speakers at the series kickoff. Joy Ochs, an English professor, and I will describe how the Vietnam War is portrayed in Hollywood movies.
In the communication courses I teach, we talk about how the media acts as both a mirror and a window. As a window, the media shows us the world. As a mirror, the media reflects our desires, aspirations and culture. However, the window is not perfectly clear, nor the mirror free of distortions. The media always alters reality.
When you’re going to be interviewed for the media, you can take advantage of the situation. Know beforehand what your message is, anticipate questions, and speak directly, clearly and with sincerity.
If you can do those things, your media experience is likely to be positive. Still, I bet that your media experience will also seem a little weird. The window is tinted and the mirror has a funhouse curve.
Longtime TV anchorman Walter Cronkite used to sign off the “CBS Evening News” with the words “And that’s the way it is…” Sort of, Walter, but only sort of.
Joe Sheller is associate professor of communication and journalism with Mount Mercy University in Cedar Rapids. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.