Climbing the Ivory Tower

So I've worked in the University for almost two years now (and see that I type the word with a capital U by default), and every single week--and I'm not exaggerating--amazing things are discovered and learned in campus. Many of them are newsworthy, some are groundbreaking, while a few are gems waiting to be weighed.

Towers at the University of Bristol. Photo by James F Clay.
The questions in my mind linger: Why don't the public know about them? Is it really hard to sit through a talk on a discovery on Rizal, report on it, publish it, and make people appreciate the patriot's message more? How about turning a jargon-heavy research that contributes to the search for cancer cure into a news piece for the regular lay reader?

Although our job, and my joy, is to turn "high-nigh, hoity-toity academic papers with bulky paragraphs into digestible news stories," there is a limitation here. Sure, many university-based communications teams do this job quite magnificently seen in the grand quasi-journalistic examples of Bostonia, the Harvard Gazette, and Columbia Magazine, but they don't seem to be making great strides in bringing these valuable information to wider audiences--a power naturally belonging to the mainstream press.

Besides, what corporately-established campus reporting lacks is the key journalistic principle of independence, that its loyalty lies in the campus and most of the exposure remains there.

Columbia Magazine's summer 2011 issue.
Acknowledged: We have what you call media liaisons that serve as channel between these so-called Ivory Towers (cough: "academic elitism") and media organizations to bring content to the masses, but what gets carried isn't usually the story most useful to public, civic education. Note that this is due to a loss in translation when political and relational decisions come into play. To put it simply, there is a lack of disinterestedness in both parties.

Another problem: Mainstream media haven't really done a very good job in educating its audiences. Most of these outfits just live on day-to-day reporting or rewriting of press releases or, well, fluff (cough: entertainment news, many lifestyle pieces and gossip). What they seem to be feeding us on a daily basis is Dingdong's latest object of gratitude or updates on Kris Aquino and Vicki Belo's friendship.

Political news reports are, of course, the bread and butter of journalism, but whatever is written about the arts or our history as a nation or scientific innovations usually lacks depth, breadth and height. Not to mention studies and research with potential social impact almost never get to the pages of our dailies.

The people are journalists' bosses (cliche, I know). Their job is to bear the truth and even, whenever possible, to deliver the best of truth. Setting aside ethical dilemmas for argument's sake, this obligation to the people is fundamental. This is sacred.

And isn't the best of truth what universities are on a quest for?

Now let's bridge this gap: What our people need is education. Ivory towers are in the business of education. So let's make the media the ladder between the two. That's it. (Or read a similar article I wrote for TNGG.)

While we dream of widespread university accessibility in the name of social justice, or integral community participation of academic institutions beyond CSR, we can establish and strengthen that "ladder" by making changes in journalism structures and practices.

And the change I propose is simple, but admittedly unorthodox: A university beat. Higher education reporting. Academic journalism. Call it whatever you want. But it's something we need today. #