A RE­SPON­SI­BIL­ITY TO­WARDS THE FU­TURE

ED­U­CA­TOR AND ME­DIA PRO­FES­SIONAL EVERETTE DEN­NIS IS A MAN WITH A MIS­SION TO BUILD A STRONG RE­SEARCH-EN­HANCED ME­DIA IN­DUS­TRY THAT WILL STAND THE TEST OF LEAD­ERS, POLI­CIES AND FORCES THAT OP­POSE FREE­DOM OF EX­PRES­SION GLOB­ALLY.

Qatar Today - - INSIDE THIS ISSUE - BY SINDHU NAIR

Ed­u­ca­tor and me­dia pro­fes­sional Everette Den­nis is a man with a mis­sion of build­ing a strong re­search en­hanced me­dia in­dus­try that will stand the test of lead­ers, poli­cies and forces that op­pose free­dom of ex­pres­sion glob­ally.

The Dean and CEO of North­west­ern Univer­si­tyQatar (NU- Q) cam­pus, Everette Den­nis has been at work expanding the re­search am­bit of the univer­sity for the last six years. Un­der his ten­ure, NU- Q has pub­lished a study about me­dia use in the Mid­dle East aimed at un­der­stand­ing how peo­ple in the Arab world use and judge the me­dia they con­sume, and con­ducted the bian­nual Qatar Me­dia In­dus­tries Fo­rum (QMIF) that brought to­gether top rep­re­sen­ta­tives in pub­lish­ing, and ad­ver­tis­ing in a dis­cus­sion to as­sess the present and fu­ture of Qatar's me­dia land­scape.

While he has been at the helm of both ed­u­ca­tion and me­dia in New York, Dean Den­nis feels that his con­tri­bu­tion from Qatar is equally stim­u­lat­ing. “I moved here from New York where I worked in me­dia and in ed­u­ca­tion, of­ten build­ing a bridge be­tween the two, so NU- Q fits my in­ter­ests and as­pi­ra­tions like a glove,” he tells Qatar To­day.

“As I tell our stu­dents, a ca­reer in and around the me­dia in­dus­tries gives you ac­cess to ev­ery­one from world lead­ers to or­di­nary peo­ple, and that has been my ex­pe­ri­ence. Be­ing in Qatar and build­ing a new in­sti­tu­tion with the help of many oth­ers opens new doors. In my time here I have been in the Oval Of­fice, at 10 Down­ing Street, and in other cor­ri­dors of power where I've met with lead­ers of me­dia in­dus­tries, ed­u­ca­tion, and other in­sti­tu­tions. I find, how­ever, that the best way to stay con­nected with the re­al­i­ties of the world is through in­ter­ac­tion with our amaz­ing stu­dents, fac­ulty, and staff as well as the peo­ple of Qatar,” he says.

Dean Den­nis seems to be par­tic­u­larly op­ti­mistic about the coun­try's will­ing­ness to em­brace change, a stance that might not be shared unan­i­mously in the me­dia cir­cles, es­pe­cially af­ter Do­haNews, one of the most ac­tive on­line news sites in the coun­try, was blocked, rais­ing a protest from the me­dia com­mu­nity and some like hu­man rights watch­dog Amnesty In­ter­na­tional la­belling this move as an “alarming set­back for free­dom of ex­pres­sion in the coun­try”.

But Dean Den­nis be­lieves that “in Qatar there is a sense of des­tiny about build­ing a glob­ally sig­nif­i­cant coun­try and me­dia sec­tor, a will­ing­ness to em­brace change, open­ness to tal­ent from al­most any­where, and the where­withal to make things hap­pen.”

Now mov­ing into a brand new build­ing de­signed by Amer­i­can ar­chi­tect An­toine Pre­dock, NU- Q stands at a thresh­old that prom­ises hope.

“To our stu­dents, the build­ing says, 'Think big, dream, and cre­ate.' It of­fers op­por­tu­ni­ties to both in­crease our pro­gram­ming and en­hance the qual­ity of our un­der­grad­u­ate pro­gramme while plan­ning for ex­ec­u­tive and grad­u­ate ed­u­ca­tion. Of spe­cial in­ter­est is a news­room that was de­signed by the Beirut ar­chi­tect, Ali Wazani, which will be among the most ad­vanced in the Mid­dle East and be­yond; and a new mu­seum, the Me­dia Ma­jlis at North­west­ern Univer­sity in Qatar, the coun­try's first univer­sity mu­seum. Taken to­gether, our build­ing will be one of the largest and most ad­vanced com­mu­ni­ca­tion schools in the world,” he says.

In a de­tailed Q and A, Dean Den­nis an­swers some of the is­sues that the me­dia in­dus­try faces in the re­gion and around the globe. In this age of dis­mal fas­cist lead­ers it is heart­en­ing to find a fer­vent ed­u­ca­tor who be­lieves that change is im­mi­nent and for the bet­ter. And his in­spi­ra­tion is from the words of Ge­orge Bernard Shaw, the great Ir­ish play­wright, who said, “We are made wise not by the rec­ol­lec­tion of our past, but by the re­spon­si­bil­ity for our fu­ture.”

“In part­ner­ship with the Qatar Foun­da­tion, NU- Q is hon­oured to help con­trib­ute to this coun­try's fu­ture. And as we moved into our new build­ing I was re­minded of Win­ston Churchill's re­marks on the re­build­ing of the Houses of Par­lia­ment, that: [First] “We shape our build­ings; there­after they shape us.”

In your six years as a Dean with NU- Q what changes have you seen in the me­dia scene and how do you eval­u­ate them?

Over­all the me­dia scene world­wide is in a state of great change and dis­rup­tion, which is cre­at­ing ex­cit­ing new en­ter­prises while sun-set­ting some tra­di­tional me­dia that now have di­min­ished in­flu­ence, though some have been strength­ened too.

There is a net gain for peo­ple com­mu­ni­cat­ing with each other with or with­out the help of me­dia thanks to the dig­i­tal rev­o­lu­tion. At the same time, there is a wor­ry­ing trend for in­de­pen­dent jour­nal­ism and truth-telling as so many govern­ments have taken on the press with dra­co­nian poli­cies and prac­tices, both in the West and across much of the globe. This is a chal­lenge for all – to cope with change and nav­i­gate com­plex­ity since free­dom of ex­pres­sion is al­ways in play ev­ery­where and needs con­stant at­ten­tion.

How would you de­scribe the jour­nal­ism scene in Doha?

First and fore­most, great growth at Al Jazeera, in pub­lish­ing, dig­i­tal me­dia, the Doha Film In­sti­tute as well as a strength­ened PR and ad­ver­tis­ing pres­ence. So­cial me­dia has also rev­o­lu­tionised com­mu­ni­ca­tion in Qatar and in the re­gion, as well as glob­ally. Due to so­cial me­dia, the rapid ad­vance­ment of me­dia both in jour­nal­ism and in film has been dra­matic, which is in­creas­ingly mak­ing Doha a me­dia city.

What kinds of in­sti­tu­tions do you see your stu­dents work­ing in?

Our stu­dents and alumni work in a wide va­ri­ety of me­dia or­ga­ni­za­tions, in­clud­ing strate­gic com­mu­ni­ca­tion firms, gov­ern­ment, and non-gov­ern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tions. In ad­di­tion to Al Jazeera, our stu­dents and alumni who work in jour­nal­ism are also em­ployed at Qatar Me­dia Cor­po­ra­tion, Qatar TV, var­i­ous mag­a­zines, beIN Sports, As­so­ci­ated Press, Al Ara­biya, and oth­ers. Some of our stu­dents have a pas­sion for news and pub­lic af­fairs and seek jobs in jour­nal­ism, while oth­ers are more in­ter­ested in work­ing as pro­fes­sional com­mu­ni­ca­tors for busi­nesses, health care or­gan­i­sa­tions, re­search in­sti­tutes, sports me­dia and mar­ket­ing, mu­se­ums, and other en­ti­ties. It is worth not­ing that some 30% of our first four grad­u­at­ing classes went to grad­u­ate school at lead­ing uni­ver­si­ties around the world in­clud­ing Har­vard, Ox­ford, Cam­bridge, Columbia, North­west­ern (Evanston), Cor­nell, and the Lon­don School of Eco­nom­ics, among oth­ers. And all doors seem open to them as some have done ad­vanced study in me­dia and film, while oth­ers have stud­ied law, busi­ness, ed­u­ca­tion, and such fields as Mid­dle East stud­ies.

What are the main fac­tors that de­ter the growth of an open, hon­est and free me­dia?

The le­gal regimes gov­ern­ing me­dia must be favourable to free ex­pres­sion and govern­ments must be trans­par­ent. This is al­ways a strug­gle any­where in the world. I think most would agree that poli­cies im­posed through gov­ern­ment, cul­tural norms, or cor­po­rate en­ti­ties that re­strict a per­son's abil­ity to com­mu­ni­cate freely will de­ter a cer­tain el­e­ment of growth in any in­dus­try. That said, there are al­ways chal­lenges to meet as our alumni, stu­dents, and fac­ulty find ways to cap­ture the essence of the world they meet through jour­nal­is­tic re­ports, doc­u­men­taries, pho­tos, and strate­gic com­mu­ni­ca­tion with gusto and pur­pose. In­creas­ingly, they are be­ing recog­nised for the qual­ity and ex­cel­lence of their work here, in the re­gion, and glob­ally.

What are the learn­ings from the an­nual re­search that has been fa­cil­i­tated by NU- Q and would greatly help in the me­dia sec­tor if rightly put to use?

What I find most in­ter­est­ing in these stud­ies is how the Mid­dle East, in cer­tain ar­eas, is more ad­vanced in us­ing cer­tain plat­forms than other parts of the world. The re­search we con­duct is not to help the me­dia sec­tor so much as it is for oth­ers to un­der­stand how peo­ple in the Mid­dle East use me­dia. Our stud­ies con­tinue to sug­gest that in­creased ac­cess to con­tent from around the world has not nec­es­sar­ily led to the aban­don­ment of me­dia from one's own na­tion or re­gion. In fact, contrary to the no­tion of a zero-sum trade-off be­tween tra­di­tional and global cul­ture, we see some ev­i­dence of in­creased use of me­dia spe­cific to one's own iden­tity along­side the expanding avail­abil­ity of in­ter­na­tional con­tent. That is good news for ev­ery­one.

While there are fac­tors like cen­sor­ship and pri­vacy that hin­der many jour­nal­is­tic ven­tures, what do you think are the pos­i­tives of work­ing in this sec­tor in the Mid­dle East?

The right to com­mu­ni­cate can be im­peded or helped by law and reg­u­la­tions, but change comes slowly and in­cre­men­tally. It must be guided and led by lo­cal peo­ple and wise lead­ers. In Qatar and the Gulf, new tal­ent rep­re­sented by our stu­dents and those at other schools, as well as young pro­fes­sion­als in me­dia firms are lead­ing the way. Nat­u­rally, one has to be re­spect­ful of lo­cal cus­toms and tra­di­tions as well as the law. Peo­ple of­ten over­look the great im­pact of dig­i­tal and so­cial me­dia in the Mid­dle East, which is be­ing felt ev­ery­where. To some ex­tent, good de­ci­sions across the cul­ture, aided by tech­nol­ogy, are ad­vanc­ing free­dom of ex­pres­sion in re­mark­able ways. Qatar is blessed with amaz­ing young peo­ple ea­ger and ready to learn more about the re­gion and the world, and then tell sto­ries to the rest of the world about this coun­try and re­gion. Through doc­u­men­taries, our fac­ulty, stu­dents, and alumni are ed­u­cat­ing peo­ple glob­ally on the strengths and chal­lenges fac­ing Qatar. In a sim­i­lar way, many of our alumni and stu­dents tell these sto­ries as jour­nal­ists and many pro­mote the good work in the pri­vate and gov­ern­ment sec­tors as pro­fes­sional strate­gic com­mu­ni­ca­tors.

How does NU- Q com­pare to what is be­ing taught and im­ple­mented at the main cam­pus?

The ed­u­ca­tion pro­vided in Qatar is fun­da­men­tally the same as it is in Evanston, which we call the “home cam­pus” and of which we are an in­te­gral part. Stu­dents here get the ex­act same de­gree as well. What is dif­fer­ent is the way we con­nect our in­struc­tion and re­search to the lo­cal cul­ture and re­gion to be rel­e­vant here. We have a lower stu­dent-teacher ra­tio here, and thus stu­dents get more per­sonal at­ten­tion. We also have what is ar­guably the best fac­ulty in the world, the most mod­ern equip­ment, and more.

Our fac­ulty is world-class and has a spe­cial in­ter­est in and aware­ness of the coun­try and re­gion. Many speak Ara­bic and other lan­guages as well. Our stu­dent body is very di­verse with rep­re­sen­ta­tion from more than 30 coun­tries. One of the dis­tinct ad­van­tages our stu­dents do have is the op­por­tu­nity to study in Evanston, re­ceive re­search grants from the Evanston cam­pus, and par­tic­i­pate in other stu­den­tre­lated travel op­por­tu­ni­ties of­fered to North­west­ern's un­der­grad­u­ates

The new NU-Q build­ing de­signed by An­toine Pre­dock

De­signed by Ali Wazani, the news­room is the most ad­vanced in the re­gion.

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