Lexington, KY – Buck Ryan, an associate professor of journalism at the University of Kentucky, is director of the Citizen Kentucky Project of the Scripps Howard First Amendment Center, a project designed to engage young people in civic life.
Ryan and his wife, Anne, moved to Lexington from Chicago in 1994, when he became director of UK’s School of Journalism and Telecommunications. Their son, Austin, attends Lexington Catholic High School and is a cantor at the Cathedral of Christ the King. Their daughter, Nina, attends Christ the King School. They have lived in the neighborhood for the last 11 years.
This summer, Ryan did a five-week tour through Russia and China giving workshops and lectures to journalism students and professionals.
What did you find most surprising about your experiences?
The toasting with vodka, singing and dancing involved in being inducted as an honorary Cossack in Russia.
What was the purpose of your visits?
Over 12 days in June, I toured Moscow and spoke at a Russian Union of Journalists conference in Kirov, a Press Development Institute-Siberia workshop in Barnaul, and an Alliance of Independent Regional Publishers of Russia convention in Rostov-on-Don.
In July, I toured Shanghai and Suzhou (pronounced SOO-joe) and served as the first journalism professor in residence at Shanghai University from UK, teaching editing and reporting classes for three weeks.
What’s the biggest difference you noticed between American and Russian journalism?
It’s a toss-up between the danger involved in investigating corruption and the role of government. Journalists complained openly about bureaucracy and limits on a free press. The Russian Union of Journalists has a memorial to reporters killed in action, picture after picture on wall after wall.
What about China?
I expected the deference and respect paid to President Hu Jintao, compared with the daily blasting President Obama gets, but I was surprised to see a CCTV special report on China’s labor crisis asking whether the days of low pay and long hours are over and criticizing labor unions for not protecting workers.
How did you overcome language and cultural barriers in the classroom?
Everything we did was in English, so the cultural barrier was steeper. My students were not used to a hands-on, question-driven classroom centered on writing and editing. No passive listening to lectures and going by the book. One student told me he was happy but tired.
Considering your Citizen Kentucky Project, do you think young people outside of America are more civically engaged?
No, but if my students could visit Russia and China with me, I think they would return with a newfound appreciation for the freedoms they enjoy.
As a seasoned journalist, what do you think about all the new ways writers can tell and share stories?
I’m enjoying the worldwide revolution. A Shanghai University professor is trying to reinvent TV news with a mobile phone company, a television station and a creative group of students. Moscow State University’s journalism school is in the throes of curriculum reform, trying to embrace the new interactive, multimedia world. When I got a chance to toss in my two rubles, I said journalism is more than telling and sharing stories; it’s about making the world a better place.
As someone “LinkedIn” with Twitter and Facebook, I could use less storytelling and more focus on the public good.
How is UK preparing journalism students to be competitive in a quickly evolving field?
The key today is the same one my predecessor, Enoch Grehan, used when he founded our journalism school in 1914: Give students real-world experiences.
This year senior Allie Garza finished second in the national multimedia competition of the Hearst Awards, the Pulitzer Prize of college journalism. Her video and photo slideshow with her Kentucky Kernel article explored the state’s tobacco industry. Freshman Brandon Goodwin, one of my Discovery Seminar students, interned in multimedia this summer at msnbc.com in Seattle. On and on, our students are making us look good.
When will newspapers be dead?
America’s first newspaper, Publick Occurrences: Both Forreign and Domestick, was published in 1690 with a blank fourth page for citizens to “blog” their own news and pass it along. Newspapers won’t die, just continue to change.