Ich war ein Mediafellow an der Duke-University in Durham, NC. Seitdem bin ich ein Amerikaner. #Duke #Sanford #Rias Berlin Commission

Es sind schon ein paar Wochen vergangen. Aber ich bin der Rias Berlin Kommission nach wie vor dankbar. Womöglich ein Leben lang. Vier Wochen Duke haben mein Leben verändert. Hier meine Berichte für künftige Generation, verfertigt im Auftrag der Foundation, aber womöglich wert, auch hier veröffentlicht zu werden – deutsch / englisch. german / english:

Es ist ein anderes Leben hier. Es braucht einiges an Zeit und Kraft um anzukommen. Wenngleich es uns Media Fellows leicht gemacht wird: Sommerliche Temperaturen im März und eine geradezu explodierende Natur begrüßen uns. Auch der Homesecurity-Officer – überaus freundlich. Und doch: Die Zeitumstellung und all die neuen Eindrücke sind heftig.

In vier Wochen als Duke-Media-Fellow habe ich mehr Zeit in „Sprechstunden“ von Professoren verbracht als in vier Jahren an der WWU Münster. Die Professoren der Divinity School oder des Religion Department reagieren auf meine Emails mit dem Wunsch, sie zu treffen, innerhalb weniger Stunden – manchmal auch innerhalb von Minuten. „Die Deadline, um sich für eine Konferenz zu registrieren, ist verstrichen? – Kein Problem. Kommen Sie einfach vorbei!“ Oder: „To join a class? – You are certainly welcome to join us.“ So geht das im Minutentakt.

Ich habe in Zeiten studiert, als ans Internet noch nicht zu denken war. Vielleicht ist das heute selbstverständlich. Mir aber erscheint es wie ein kleines Weltwunder, dass es auf dem Campus für Studierende freies Internet gibt, dass ich vom Sofa aus Bücher online bestellen kann….

… Weltwunder auch, dass alle Studenten das neueste MacBook nutzen. Bei großen Lectures wie etwa von Salman Rushdie hebt immer wieder das Apple-Tastatur-Geklapper an. Eine an- und abschwillende Klangkulisse, die die Intelligenz des Schwarms widerspiegelt. Notizen werden nur noch selten in Blocks geschrieben. Sie werden live getwittert – jedenfalls bei großen, öffentlichen Veranstaltungen.

Es gibt auch vieles, was ich niemals verstehen werde: etwa die Institution des brown bag lunch. Es soll eine informelle Atmosphäre produzieren. Jeder bringt sein Lunch selbst mit und raschelt dann mit Tüten, schmatzt und kaut. Ich erinnere mich an einen früheren Chefredakteur, der Kollegen vor die Konferenztür setzte, wenn sie auch nur ein Pfefferminz-Bonbon im Mund hatten.

Ebenso wenig plausibel erscheinen mir auf Kühlschrank-Niveau temperierte Seminarräume oder beheizte Dachterassen. So erlebt in Chapelhill. Apropos. Drei Uni-Orte sind hier ganz dicht beieinander: Chapelhill, Durham, Raleigh. Deswegen auch Triangle. Und allüberall geht mir Tom Wolfes wunderbarer Roman „I Am Charlotte Simmons“ durch den Kopf. Und jeden Tag laufe ich an Coach K’s Auto vorbei. Er ist in Wolfes Roman aufs Feinste porträtiert und sei allen anempfohlen, die jemals in die Gegend oder nach Duke reisen.

Das Media-Fellow-Programm eröffnet Freiräume, um seinen eigenen Interessen nachgehen zu können. Bei mir sind es neben der Religionswissenschaft die Social Media. Hier gewährt besonders der Field-Trip nach Washington ungeahnte Einblicke. Denn unsere Gesprächspartner legen eine verblüffende Offenheit und Transparenz an den Tag. Der Presse-Offizier im Pentagon räumt eine gewisse Hilflosigkeit im Umgang mit Twitter, Blogs und Facebook ein. PR-Strategien von einst hätten sich erledigt, weil die großen Zeitungen längst nicht mehr die Macht hätten wie einst. Eine Behörde wie das Verteidigungsministerium könne aber nie so schnell sein wie Blogger. Außerdem gehe es um Menschenleben. Seine Skepsis bezüglich Blogistan ist aus Kenntnis gespeist – und nicht aus Ahnungslosigkeit, die ich in hiesigen Debatten oftmals ausmache.

Wir laufen durch ein Ministerium, das wie eine Stadt wirkt – eine Kleinstadt mit rund 30.000 Einwohnern. Überall gepflegte, freundliche Spitzenoffiziere. Rund 75 % der Pentagon-Leute sind hochrangige Offiziere. Plötzlich stehen wir vor dem Büro von Robert Gates, Secetary of Defense. Ich bezweifle, dass eine chinesisch-amerikanische-südafrikanisch-deutsche Besuchergruppe beim Leiter des Grünflächenamtes Castrop-Rauxel vorbeimarschieren könnte.

Ein roter Faden zieht sich durch alle Gespräche: das Phänomen, dass Social Media die journalistische Arbeit massiv beeinflussen und die klassischen Medienhäuser personell ausgedünnt sind. Aber Amerikaner kennen keine Probleme, sondern nur „challenges“. Als Herausforderung werden auch die Umbrüche im Medienmarkt angesehen. Aber es wird eng, sagt unser Mann bei der Washington Post ganz offen. Es sei denn, die Verlage entwickeln alsbald Strategien, wie Inhalte im Netz, auf dem IPad oder wo auch immer so angeboten werden, dass die Nutzer bereit sind zu zahlen: „Die Papierzeitung wird sterben. Denn ihre Leser sterben.“

Der Besuch bei NPR ist für mich eine Art Pilgerreise. Ich bin leidenschaftlicher Hörer von NPR-Podcasts, liebe die Ipad-/Iphone-Apps von National Public Radio. NPR bekommt ein wenig Geld vom Staat, wirbt Sponsorengelder ein, wird aber vor allem von der Hörerschaft getragen. Sie geben freiwillig Geld für ein Programm, das sie mögen. Ich bin auch zahlendes Mitglied, denn NPR hat eine Member-Station in Berlin: Ich spende, also bin ich. Und ich bereue es nicht. Für gute Inhalte zahle ich gerne! In Washington jene NPR-Kollegen zu treffen, die mich in Köln und Berlin begleiten und mir so viele Impulse geben – nice to meet you. Und viel mehr.

Wie wir es schaffen, mit Media Fellows aus China, Südafrika, Singapur, Japan und Deutschland auf die Marine Corps Base Quantico zu kommen, soll hier ein Geheimnis bleiben. Ebenso, wie es gelingt, ins Büro von Bob Schieffer vorzudringen. Er ist der Hajo Friedrichs des US-Fernsehens. 40 Minuten vor der Aufzeichnung seiner Sendung „Face the Nation“ ist er ebenso entspannt wie danach beim Frühstück, zu dem er uns einlädt. Nur so viel sei verraten: Media Fellows werden Freunde und teilen ihre Kontakte, so dass manchmal möglich wird, was zunächst unmöglich erscheint.

Eine Woche später – am Wochenende – reisen wir Fellows, die zu Freunden werden, ans Meer. Von unseren Vorgängern (Herbst 2010) bekommen wir den Tipp, uns in einem ganz bestimmten  Hotel einzumieten. Jedes Zimmer hat Meerblick.

Über all dem liegt eine schützende Hand, die all diese Prozesse ermöglicht: Program Director Laurie Bley. Sie ermutigt und schiebt an. Sie gibt Anregungen und lässt jene akademische Freiheit, die eigene Erkenntnisse möglich macht. Hätte es nicht diese Freiräume gegeben, hätte ich keine Zeit gehabt, mich auf die stundenlangen Gespräche mit jenem konservativen katholischen Theologen vorzubereiten oder mit jenem linksliberalen, popkulturell gebildeten Religionswissenschaftler oder mit jenem jüdischen Professor, der politisch radikal-linke Thesen vertritt. Diese drei so unterschiedlichen Scholars verbindet eines: Sie sind offen für andere Meinungen, pflegen den nüchternen Diskurs und sind offen und warmherzig gegenüber Fremden. Ich habe viel gelernt.

Ich habe einen Einblick bekommen in eine US-Welt, die ich ohne RIAS-Duke-Fellowship so nie hätte erleben können: Einblick in eine akademische, überwiegend reiche, die Demokraten wählende und Obama unterstützende, sich gepflegt ausdrückende, gut gekleidete Welt. Das ist sicher eine ganz spezielle Perspektive – doch es gibt in Durham auch Armut und Schilder an Geschäften, die fordern: „No weapons allowed.“

Doch trotz dieser Schattenseiten – vier Wochen an dieser teuren Privat-Universität, umgeben von der künftigen Elite dieses Landes, stimmen mich optimistisch.

Und dafür möchte ich mich bei allen bedanken, die das ermöglicht haben: bei Laurie Bley, bei den Mit-Fellows, den Studenten, den Professoren, den Rednern, Journalisten-Kollegen und natürlich und vor allem auch Rainer Hasters und der RIAS Berlin Kommission.

English, another version:

The arrival at the Airport Durham/Raleigh was surprisingly easy; there were none of the problems of which Europeans tend to be frightened. Even the Homesecurity Officer welcomed me warmly, saying „Enjoy your seven weeks in the States!“ It was a wonderful introduction to the hospitality of North Carolina.

My four weeks at Duke University were more than joyful and very enlightening—even though it is not easy to deal with so many new experiences in daily life. Everyone knows what it means to be disoriented by a long flight and time shift.

Then there were technical issues which were, of course, a challenge—unfamilar power-outlets and switches, gaining access to the Internet, a broken cable and damaged landline—but there were always wonderful people all around who were willing to help.

On my second day, to my great fortune, I met Robyn Kriel, a TV-reporter from South Africa. Both Media Fellows at Sanford School / DeWitt Wallace Center for Media & Democracy, we began exploring Durham together. And, as it turned out would happen several times, Fellows became friends.

I graduated about 25 years ago.  Here, in 2011, a group of journalists and I are  introduced by our program director, Laurie Bley, into the modern world of Duke University. For me it is like Mars, or another planet, or another universe. When I studied there was no Internet. WiFi on the campus—a miracle. Requesting books while sitting on the sofa or in a café—a marvel. A special email-account that makes university communication extremely fast—the ninth wonder of the world. (I was am326@duke.edu), and I will never forget how promptly Duke professors answered student’s emails.

There were so many unfamiliar and new experiences during my time at Duke. As I passed the Escalade of Coach K., I almost fell over remembering I am Charlotte Simmons written by Tom Wolfe. And the faculty at Duke that I was fortunate enough to meet were unforgettable. During my first evening at Duke, Professor Sarah Cohen, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, joined us in a bar in the Tobacco District of Downtown Durham. Informally and casually, we sat there chatting about politics, journalism, and so forth. I was amazed that this longtime Washington Post journalist was also interested in our tiny little world.

Meeting Alicia Shepard, NPR Ombudsman, was another highlight. In an impressive, open, self-deprecating but self-confident way, admitted the mistakes NPR has made. She promotes NPR, but brings up less complimentary subjects from recent news reports, as well. Beyond my appreciation for NPR programs, I was struck for the first time by the relaxed way in which American intellectuals discuss controversial issues. This is one of the central themes of my fellowship.

During a brown bag lunch with Jay Hamilton, the director of Sanford School, he wants to know what we are interested in. He listens and gives us recommendations; whom we should meet or which classes we should join. His recommendations turn out to be great choices. He introduces us to a media world that faces incredible challenges. For example, editors have been removed because no one wants to pay for news coverage. Hamilton is thrilled by different experiments in the media—pay models, non-profit news organisations, and a kind of computational coverage of news stories.

At the weekend, I joined a gathering of the Divinity School: „Toward a Moral Consensus against Torture.“  Amy Laura Hall, Associate Professor of Christian Ethics at Duke Divinity School, coordinated the conference and moderating sessions. The conference started in the First Presbyterian Church on Main Street. In Germany everyone would expect Bible Belt, right-wing, biased Christians, but the reality is much more complex than we media people normally communicate. Muslims, Jews and Christians are sitting together in a church and, the next morning, in the Divinity School, eagerly and rationally discussing the issues facing society. Extra thrilling was that five attendants of the conference were tweeting live.

After one week in the program my approach had developed: on one hand, I wanted to focus on social media, and on the other, the relationship between religion and science.

On one Sunday morning, for the first time in my life, I attended services of worship. I started with the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church. It was crowded. The average age was about 35 years. All continents were represented. There was a very kind and warm atmosphere; very emotional. In the Duke Chapel assembled the elite of the elite. Well-dressed academics, the best of the best. The liturgical strength embraced an immense emotional power. My point of view concerning american churches was changed within a few hours.

Returning to the media world, I attended a brown bag lunch with Bill Adair, founder of Politifact, a truthchecking website, and former newspaper correspondent of many years. He remarked upon all the cutbacks in the media, realizing that the future lay in the internet. He embodied the attitude towards life that sees no problems, but rather challenges, and this was inspiring for me. He advises journalists to look for new strategies concerning the web and is bored with editors who simply drop their stories from the newspaper into the Internet via copy/paste. He was extremely open and told us a great deal about page views, visitors and revenue.

During the fellowship, Prof. David Morgan’s class Religions in America, was a kind of harbor for me. I sat in on the class six times. This is study of religions at its best: sophisticated, rational, serious, sometimes funny, eye-opening. ‚Civil Rights and Religion‘ was the issue that day. A very lively debate arose about the merging and combining of religions and society, of politics and prayer, of preaching and speaking. How far is a pastor allowed to go? The use of multimedia and projectors was utilized—and it worked. Three weeks later I met with Prof. Morgan to summarize my impressions and to interview him and I was very pleased when we talked for more than an hour about the impact of religion on American society and vice versa.

To deepen the impressions from the religion classes, I decided to borrow a book. I asked for help via email and the librarians answered within one hour. Duke was ever impressive.

On our invaluable field trip to Washington we meet Steve Reiss, our host at the Washington Post. We were allowed to attend the central morning conference with all the men and women in charge. This is another proof of the openness, hospitality and transparency of the US society which I really appreciate which exists in spite of the common complaint that security might have reduced this openness since 9/11.

The news room seemed to me like an exaggeration in a movie. The Hub was in the center of huge room, bigger than I ever imagined. Everyone has watched iconic movies in which newsrooms play a role, and compared to Germany they are enormous. It was more a village than a newsroom; a village structured according to the challenges that media face today. Those who deal with social media are a big deal in a newsroom nowadays. This gigantic structure seems to make sense because those who have related jobs are sitting in the same areas of the news village.

According to Steve Reiss, one of the main challenges is to get the readers engaged and to improve the mobile apps. „Newspaper is a dying platform“ he told us.  “We are in a interregnum and there is not much time to find ways how to earn money with a product that is precious. Our readers are dying and they are not going to replaced. We have to stem back that loss.“ Steve Reiss is very diplomatic. He knows how to place the message between the lines. He is 53 and one of the most experienced in this newsroom.

Yet overall it is a very young newsroom because of, as we are told, “the digital skills that [they] require.” In an interview, nobody will be asked if he or she has a Facebook account; it is presumed.

Visiting National Public Radio, NPR, was a little bit like a pilgrimage to Mecca if I were a Muslim. I am a donating member and a listener and user on a regular basis either via podcast or radio because NPR has a local member station in Berlin. Our host Alan Stone is NPR-addicted, too. But is not this type of PR-character who focuses only on the bright side—he reveals the shady side too. And he introduces me to Bob Boilen, the one who developed fascinating formats like the amazing “Tiny Desk Concerts.”

At the Pentagon, the Press Officer admitted to a kind of helplessness concerning social media. The media world is in the midst of a revolution, and a bureaucratic organization like the Department of Defense is kind of perplexed as to how to deal with this. It is an ‚off the record‘ meeting and I should be cautious. Otherwise I will not be allowed in the future to attend press conferences with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

The main issue being that the press officers make a mistake, human lives are in danger. Although he is sceptical, he is interested in blogs, Facebook and Twitter. But there is also the tendency to keep information back because it is impossible to shape the way social media cover the military.

He worked for Fox News and NPR but now he is on the other side of the wall, having changed his allegiance. But he is still a colleague who wants to introduce international media fellows plainly in a world which wants to be as open as possible.

Mary Speer leads us through the Pentagon. We stroll along in front of the offices of the Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates and of the military leadership. This would not be possible in a social welfare office of a small German town. Every accredited journalist is allowed to walk around in this town with 30,000 inhabitants called the Pentagon, and to ask officers whatever he or she wants to ask.

At Voice of America they have the same problems as other international broadcasters. Less money and fewer foreign languages. Voice of America has merged all departments in one newsroom:  video, radio, multimedia. These are real challenges they are facing, all throughout the media landscape.

Washington Post, NPR, the Pentagon and Voice of America have a great deal in common. For example, a lot of information is off the record and one is not allowed to take pictures. But, somehow, all are also extremely open. And one phenomen is ever present: social media has a deep impact on the news and staff of traditional publishers is now being reduced as a result.

Meeting Bob Schieffer of Face the Nation was a particular highlight as he is a legend. With only 45 minutes before the show opens he invites us to come into his office. It’s like a museum.  After 20 years of professional experience I can watch a live TV show for the first time from the perspective of the control room. They even have a colleague who focuses on tweeting. After the show, Bob Schieffer is as relaxed as before the show. He invites us for a breakfast in a diner where everyone recognizes him. Perhaps he is the Face of the Nation?

During the “Media Challenges Today” we discussed the media-situation in our home countries. The wide range of perspectives is striking. There is the colleague from Nicaragua where media are under pressure from the government ruled by Daniel Ortega. There was the Chinese success story with enormous revenues but also with limitations concerning free speech. There is the “German Angst” that averts an unprejudiced effort to embrace social media in our traditional media which are still in good shape. There is the colleague of South Africa who is not allowed to travel to Zimbabwe. She produced videos though – but undercover. The diversity of media challenges reflects the diversity of different countries in a global world that is nevertheless in high gear.

Another email from a professor. I will never forget this willingness to answer emails within one, two, three hours in such a warm-hearted way inviting me to meet them to dicuss their and my interests of research. I can barely believe it even now after four times. I meet Professor Reinhard Hütter who teaches systematic and philosophical theology at Divinity School. I am interested in his comparisons as he is from Germany, but has been a professor for a long time at Duke. We compare the state religion relationship, the universities, the cultural attitude towards religion, the status quo of religious life. We talked  for 110 minutes. If I add all the time that I spent in consultation hours during my four years at a German university studying theology and history, it was a smaller amount of time than in the four weeks as a media fellow at Duke.

A few days later. I meet Professor Kalman Bland. He teaches Jewish Studies and focusses on intellectuals of the Medieval Age. We have different opinions concerning different topics, but those two hours were a culmination of my experiences at Duke. This is a culture of debate that I appreciate: sharing opinions, listening, avoiding aggression, enjoying intellectual brillance, keeping cool, inspiring the dialogue partner, accepting or forcing ambiguity, encouraging „geisteswissenschaftliche“ (Bland) coherence. After more than two hours Kalman Bland discharged me with homework. I should go to the West Campus and compare the opposite of the Duke Chapel, that is located in the center of East Campus. He revealed nothing although I insisted because I am a journalist. I went to East Campus. It worked out. It was another eye-opener.

All this would have not been possible without our program director Laurie Bley. She was the one who encouraged us to trace our special interests and pursue reasearch topics on our own. For me as a specialized journalist this was a marvellous opportunity. The relationship between optional and non-optional lectures or meetings on the one hand and free time for free research on the other hand was well-balanced.

I focused on social media and religious science. I explored the immense sources at Duke that helped me to rejuvenate my points of view. Sorry if this seems familiar, but the four weeks as a media fellow will remain with  me because it was not only a program that I consumed; I designed my own program with the assistance of Laurie Bley, or with the help of a Guardian Angel called Laurie Bley. I suppose she hates this term.

And together with the unforgettable encounters, new friends, talks and brown bag lunches, Duke University was a phenomenal host. I  am grateful for such an eye-opening and stimulating opportunity.

And the conundrum of Prof. Bland? The opposite of the Duke Chapel is the Baldwin Auditorium. I interpret it in my own way: reason and faith, church and auditorium, worship and arts, neo gothic and neo renaissance, Harry Potter and Italia, church and temple, east and west, ying and yang – this is a allegory! This is the First Amendment that expresses itself in an architectural way. This is perhaps the Constitution of the United States of America.

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Eine Antwort zu Ich war ein Mediafellow an der Duke-University in Durham, NC. Seitdem bin ich ein Amerikaner. #Duke #Sanford #Rias Berlin Commission

  1. Pingback: Regiert Gott Amerika? Oder: Gott regiert Amerika! | Andreas Main

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