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2016

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Mary Wiemann is a Professor Emeritus in the Department of Communication at Santa Barbara City College. She is the author of Real Communication, 3e.

 

Q: What has been your favorite course to teach and why? 

MW: The intro course because it excites students about the field and corrects their thinking that communication is just common sense.

 

Q: What advice do you have for other instructors who teach this course?

MW: Be ready to have FUN with it—connect the course concepts to your own life and challenge the students to do the same.  Don’t be afraid to talk about the communication challenges we all face—becoming more competent communicators helps us deal with them and increases our satisfaction with interactions.

 

Q: How do you spend your time when you're not teaching?

MW: Now that I have retired from teaching (I was also department chair for 8 years), I have trained to be a docent at a California mission; I have enjoyed learning about the early history of the Chumash, the establishments of 21 missions in California by the Spanish, and the darker period after Mexico won the war with Spain when many of the missions were trashed.  I love meeting people from all over the world (literally) who take my tours; I remember to engage them, welcome them and involve them in the tour (remember your public speaking advice!).  I also volunteer with a women’s organization that raises money to help people in the community—I’ve done speech training for them and written some press releases.  AND, I spend time with my two delightful grandsons!

 

Q: If you hadn't pursued a career in higher education, what career path do you think you would have chosen?

MW: I thought about going to law school for a long time because I was always fascinated about the strength of language and the way witnesses' perceptions of an event differ. Lawyers also have to be good at observing nonverbal behaviors—in their questioning of potential jurors and in coaching their clients for court appearances.

 

Q: What is one thing people would be surprised to learn about you (i.e. What's your "fun fact"?)? 

MW: I have a farm in the Panhandle of Texas where we grow wheat and corn.  I say “we” but mean the great farmers who actually know what they are doing grow the crops; my “growing” skills are limited to my vegetable gardens in my back yard and the orchids I propagate inside.

If you’re interested in vocal patterns, communication trends, and gender issues, I encourage you to listen to this episode of Fresh Air with Terry Gross. The podcast explores the changes in speech patterns in women, particularly focused on young women. It defines “vocal fry” and “upspeak,” giving examples of each. I was very familiar with upspeak, but before listening to this podcast, I wasn’t quite sure about “vocal fry.” It also explores the fact that some men have adopted these habits.

Terry Gross speaks with:

Jessica Gross, a journalist who’s faced criticism due to her voice and speaking style

Penny Eckert, a linguistics professor at Stanford

Susan Sankin, a speech pathologist in New York City

 

From Upspeak To Vocal Fry: Are We 'Policing' Young Women's Voices? : NPR

 

Take a listen. What do you think of these changes in vocal patterns? Have you noticed them in women and/or men? What do you think that using upspeak or vocal fry communicates about the speaker?

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Language—the ability to assign words to objects and ideas. It’s something we take for granted, but it’s an amazing power if you sit down and really think about it. Language is central to the field of communication studies, and for good reason: It’s a big part of what makes us human. From Merriam-Webster (emphasis mine):

 

language

: the system of words or signs that people use to express thoughts and feelings to each other

: any one of the systems of human language that are used and understood by a particular group of people

 

As this entry shows, we tend to think of language as a uniquely human phenomenon. Sure, other animals like chimps and dolphins can communicate with each other to some extent, but they can’t have a lengthy debate about the meaning of life—and they definitely can’t write a 700-word blog post.

 

But is language really exclusive to humans? In 1950, mathematician and computer scientist Alan Turing challenged that idea. (You might know him from the 2014 Oscar-winning film The Imitation Game, in which he’s played by Benedict Cumberbatch.) Turing hypothesized that in the not-too-distant future, computers would develop such advanced linguistic skills that human judges, who see the computer typing on a screen, would be fooled into thinking that the computer is itself human. A computer that can trick people this way is said to pass the “Turing test.”

 

Turing thought a computer would pass his test as early as the year 2000. That hasn’t happened yet—but some computers have come close. In 2014, a chatbot named “Eugene Goostman” made headlines for allegedly passing the Turing test in one trial—but then failed spectacularly in subsequent trials with lines like, “No. Beep-beep. I am not a ma-chine. Blink-blink. I am hu-man. Click! Hu-man. Click! Hu... Damn.” (Yes, really. You can read the bot’s full interview with Business Insider here.)

 

So that was a bust. But in 2015, a different computer passed a variant of the test that has been called a “visual Turing test”. In this version, human participants couldn’t tell the difference between symbols “drawn” by the computer program and symbols drawn by humans. Meanwhile, even mass-market computers like Amazon’s Echo have become increasingly sophisticated at recognizing human verbal commands and speaking answers in reply, suggesting a degree of (albeit primitive) linguistic competence.

 

But my favorite case involves a poem-generating algorithm developed by programmer Zachary Schnoll. As a joke, Schnoll let his algorithm write several poems, which Schnoll then submitted to The Archive, the literary magazine at Duke University. He was amazed when the magazine actually published one:

 

A home transformed by the lightning

the balanced alcoves smother

this insatiable earth of a planet, Earth.

They attacked it with mechanical horns

because they love you, love, in fire and wind.

You say, what is the time waiting for in its spring?

I tell you it is waiting for your branch that flows,

because you are a sweet-smelling diamond architecture

that does not know why it grows.

 

As far as nature-minded poetry goes, this isn't exactly Henry David Thoreau—but it's also not bad, considering it was written by a computer. Nobody noticed anything amiss until Schnoll revealed the true author on his blog, four years after the poem's original publication. Does this algorithmically-generated poem count as a true pass of the Turing test? Maybe, maybe not. Either way, it’s fascinating.

 

While true artificial intelligence isn’t here yet, its theoretical implications for communication studies are huge. Humans probably won’t be alone in the language club forever. A computer convincingly passing the Turing test is more likely a matter of when than if. Maybe in twenty years, interpersonal communication textbooks will include case studies about how to respond when you learn that your pen pal is really an AI. Until then, we can only wait and see.

Yesterday was a momentous day for the National Weather Service. On May 11, 2016, more than 146 years after it began communicating with the American people, the National Weather Service has officially stopped yelling at us. That’s right, you will now begin to receive your forecasts in sentence case rather than the antiquated all caps, or yelling case.

 

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Source: http://imgur.com/gallery/z38klNN

 

So how did the convention of using capital letters for emphasis begin, and when did those same letters start getting such a bad rap? An article on the subject (and there are many; apparently the Internet has VERY strong feelings about the caps lock) suggests that the history of using uppercase letters dates all the way back to the Roman Empire, when pompous emperors used the proverbial caps lock to brag about their accomplishments through inscriptions on monuments. But not all capital letters have their roots in bragging, yelling, or otherwise unpleasant outlets of communication. Jump ahead a few millennia to the age of modern weather forecasting, as mentioned above, during which teleprinters revolutionized the transmission of weather reports. These teleprinters, which were basically a typewriter-telephone hybrid, were only capable of transmitting uppercase letters. Through the years, of course, technology has changed, but traditions kept the uppercase forecasts en vogue for the next half century or so.

 

Though particulars like letter case, punctuation, etc. had become fairly well regulated by publishers throughout the 20th century, the unregulated nature of the Internet added a deeper level of complexity to the conventions of writing. Additionally, while variations in font such as bold and italics can easily convey emphasis on a printed sheet, those styles can sometimes get lost on lower resolution screens. Where there’s a will, there’s a way, though, and Internet users explored solutions for their emphasizing needs. According to Internet user Dave Decot in 1984:

 

There seem to be some conventions developing in the use of various emphasizers. There are three kinds of emphasis in use, in order of popularity:

1) using CAPITAL LETTERS to make words look “louder”,

2) using *asterisks* to put sparklers around emphasized words, and

3) s p a c i n g words o u t, possibly accompanied by 1) or 2).

 

Of course, convention number 1 has stuck and has left the caps lock haters hating for decades.

 

So what is a modern society of digital savvy communicators to do to combat the tyranny of the caps lock? If you’re Google or IBM, you can just do away with the caps lock key entirely and pretend like it never existed. If you’re brave, like Sian S. Rathore  or Kashmir Hill, you can try your own caps lock experiment and see how long it takes the Internet to start arriving with the pitchforks. Just be careful not to lose your job over it like this healthcare worker from New Zealand. But if you’re like the rest of us, you’ll just keep on reading the Internet yelling, and try not to judge the caps lock users too harshly.

I recently read Gloria Steinem’s fantastic memoir, My Life on the Road, published in late 2015. Gloria recounts her decades filled with extensive traveling--there are many years in which she’s not home for more than eight days at a time.

 

Throughout the book, Gloria shares her belief in the power of communication that is in-person, non-hierarchical, and honest. From the first chapter, she notes her travels as showing her this necessity, in order to find out what’s really going on in the country:

 

“I discovered something I might never otherwise have learned: people in the same room understand and empathize with each other in a way that isn’t possible on the page or screen.”

 

Gloria learned about the power of listening and specifically talking circles from a trip to India in her twenties:

 

“It was the first time I witnessed the ancient and modern magic of groups in which anyone may speak in turn, everyone must listen, and consensus is more important than time. I had no idea that such talking circles had been a common form of governance for most of human history, from the Kwei and San in southern Africa, the ancestors of us all, to the First Nations on my own continent, where layers of such circles turned into the Iroquois Confederacy, the oldest continuous democracy in the world. Talking circles once existed in Europe, too, before floods, famines, and patriarchal rule replaced them with hierarchy, priests, and kings. I didn’t even know, as we sat in Ramnad, that a wave of talking circles and “testifying” was going on in black churches of my own country and igniting the civil rights movement. I certainly didn’t guess that, a decade later, I would see consciousness-raising groups, women’s talking circles, giving birth to the feminist movement.”

 

When beginning to speak in front of audiences, Gloria suffered debilitating stage fright. She partnered with another speaker and friend in order to overcome this, and learned other ways to combat her anxiety:

 

“Since we had been successful one on one, Dorothy suggested we speak to audiences as a team. Then we could each talk about our different but parallel experiences, and she could take over if I froze or flagged. Right away we discovered that a white woman and a black woman speaking together attracted far more diverse audiences than either one of us would have done on our own. I also found that if I confessed my fear of public speaking, audiences were not only tolerant but sympathetic. Public opinion polls showed that many people fear public speaking even more than death. I had company.”

 

Eventually, Gloria became comfortable in front of audiences. She continued to speak (and still does) at college campuses, which only affirmed her view of the importance of speaking to an audience face-to-face:

 

“If there is one thing that these campus visits have affirmed for me, it’s that the miraculous but impersonal Internet is not enough. As in the abolitionist and suffragist era, when there were only six hundred or so colleges with a hundred students each—and itinerant organizers like the Grimké sisters, Frederick Douglass, and Sojourner Truth traveled to speak in town halls, granges, churches, and campgrounds—nothing can replace being in the same space.”

 

Clearly, Gloria’s years on the road taught her many lessons about the most powerful and effective forms of communication. I’ll end with a quote that sums up all of this communication wisdom:

 

“If you want people to listen to you, you have to listen to them. If you hope people will change how they live, you have to know how they live. If you want people to see you, you have to sit down with them eye-to-eye.”

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Adam Leipzig is an entrepreneur, filmmaker, producer, publisher, and the author of Filmmaking in Action and Inside Track for Independent Filmmakers. He is the COO of CreativeFuture, a non-profit organization advocating for the creative community. He is also the CEO of Entertainment Media Partners, which provides informed guidance for independent media companies, financiers, and producers, and is the publisher of Cultural Weekly. Adam teaches at Chapman University's Dodge College of Film and Media Arts, in the Executive Education program of UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business, and in UCLA's Professional Producing Program. He has overseen more than 25 movies as producer, executive, or distributor, including March of the Penguins; Dead Poets Society; Titus; Honey, I Shrunk the Kids; Amreeka; and The Story of the Weeping Camel. Adam served as president of National Geographic Films and as senior vice president at Walt Disney Studios, and in each of those positions was responsible for the movie industry's most profitable film of the year.

You’re both a filmmaker and an educator. What are your favorite courses to teach, and how do your Hollywood experiences inform your teaching?

I enjoy teaching marketing and distribution because it sounds so dry, but it is really exciting. The class brings in their laptops every day. We burrow into databases and learn how to reverse-engineer trailers, one-sheets and distribution patterns. They teach themselves. In this way, we discover how to demystify Hollywood really operates. Everything I do is informed by my Hollywood experience because that's the world I come from and students love practical as-it-really-happens information.

 

You also have a lot of experience as a public speaker outside of the classroom, including a talk for TEDx. How does teaching compare to, say, delivering a keynote address to an industry audience?

Well, teaching is interactive. In fact, when you're teaching, the more the students participate and do the work themselves, the better the learning outcomes. When I give a keynote, I'm pretty much doing the work.

 

What advice to you have for instructors who teach filmmaking and production courses?

The film and production educators I have met are so smart and committed, they could probably give me advice!

 

What do you think are some of the biggest challenges students interested in filmmaking and video production face?

1. Have higher standards -- your work can always be better. 2. Get over the idea that you want to be a director. The world does not need a zillion more directors, and there are more than 200 other fabulous creative jobs in film and media. 3. Only 20% of the jobs in film and media are in Los Angeles or New York. Most of the jobs are elsewhere in the nation, and not in traditional movies or TV.

 

What inspired you to get into the world of instructional/educational publishing with Inside Track and Filmmaking in Action?

At a certain point in your life, you just want to share information. I have been down all these roads before. I see the next generation of independent filmmakers in the rear-view mirror, and I would like to give them a faster track to knowledge and success.

 

How does your work as CEO of Entertainment Media Partners inform your work as an educator? Or vice versa?

Entertainment Media Partners keeps me in the day-to-day of film and media. I stay current and I'm always learning new things.

 

You have a pretty busy schedule. Do you get a chance to go out to the movies much? Have you seen anything you really loved lately?

Last night I watched a Korean noir-action movie called The Divine Move on Netflix. Terrific movie that’s way better than its title. Kept me up ‘til three in the morning. I am paying for it today.

 

What was the last book you read?

Speculative Relationships, Volume 2, by Tyrell Cannon.

 

What are some of your hobbies outside the film industry?

Bike riding. Love it.

 

What is one thing people would be surprised to learn about you? Your “fun fact,” in other words.

I'm a really good cook. Want to come over for dinner?

Campbell hed shot.jpgRichard Campbell, Professor and Chair of the Department of Media, Journalism and Film at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, is the author of Macmillan’s Media & Culture, Media Essentials, and Media in Society. He is also the author of “60 Minutes” and the News: A Mythology for Middle America (1991) and coauthor of Cracked Coverage: Television News, the Anti-Cocaine Crusade, and the Reagan Legacy (1994). Campbell has written for numerous publications, including Columbia Journalism Review, Journal of Communication, and Media Studies Journal, and he is on the editorial boards of Critical Studies in Mass Communication and Television Quarterly. He also serves on the board of directors for Cincinnati Public Radio. He holds a Ph.D. from Northwestern University and has also taught at the University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee, Mount Mary College, the University of Michigan, and Middle Tennessee State University.

 

Q: What courses are you teaching this semester?  

RC: JRN 101 -- a team taught course writing/JRN history course with 75 students (and 10 undergraduate assistants)

 

Q: What has been your favorite course to teach?

RC: Honors section of Intro to Media -- with my textbook!

 

Q: What advice do you have for other instructors who teach this course?

RC: Let students lead the discussion on social media.  They know more than I do...and I learn a few things. They are also more critically perceptive about the pluses and minuses of Facebook and Twitter when they are in charge of the conversation.

 

Q: What are some of your research interests?

RC: Most recent article was about the rise of partisanship in the media and how it's driven by the economic interests of news outlets.

 

Q: If you could create (and teach) a brand new course for your department, what would it be?

RC: In partnership with Dept. of Statistics, we are developing a new course, News & Numbers, that will count as a quantitative literacy requirement in our college.

 

Q: What do you think is one of the biggest challenges students face now when they enter college? 

RC: Too many choices and too many distractions with social media.

 

Q: What motivates you to continue teaching? 

RC: Keeps me young...and I really like being around smart young people.

 

On a personal note...

 

Q. How do you take your coffee? 

RC: With a little cream.

 

Q. What newspaper(s) do you read? Print or digital?

RC: Mostly read in print -- get the NY Times daily and also Dayton Daily News. Occasionally read the Cincinnati Enquirer, although its small tabloid format (thanks, Gannett!) is a turnoff... and hard on my eyes.

 

Q: How do you spend your time when you're not teaching? 

RC: Reading, watching TV, playing golf, walking our dogs, visiting our 2-year old grandson in Ann Arbor.

 

Q: If you hadn't pursued a career in higher education, what career path do you think you would have chosen?

RC: I started out as a high school English teacher and coach (basketball and track) in Milwaukee but I wanted to be a TV critic for a newspaper.

 

Q. What’s your favorite TV show or movie of the year so far?

RC: TV -- Catastrophe, a smart comedy on Amazon; Movies -- a tie between Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Spotlight (which really gave good journalism a shot in the arm).

 

Q: What was the last book you read?

RC: Louise Penny's A Fatal Grace.

 

Q: What book has influenced you most?

RC: To Kill a Mockingbird when I was young; Walker Percy's The Last Gentleman when I was an undergrad; and Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions as a grad student.

 

Q: When you sit down to listen to music, which artists or genres do you go to most?

RC: My Pandora rotation in the shuffle mode includes 50s rock and roll, Janice Joplin, The Band, Levon Helm, Fats Waller, Gene Krupa, Django Reinhardt, John Mellencamp, Simon & Garfunkel, Mumford & Sons, Adele, CCR, The Beatles, and the Rolling Stones, among others.  

 

Q: Where is one place you want to travel to, but have never been?

RC: Scotland

 

Q: What is one thing people would be surprised to learn about you?

RC: Two things: that I once had the Fab Five all in the same class (of 400) at Michigan (and rightly predicted after that the downfall of U of M's men's basketball program)...and that I do a podcast called Stats+Stories with the dept. of statistics chair at Miami.