Journalist Dr. Ann Jones Talks Investigative Reporting and Democracy at UMF

Investigative journalist Dr. Ann Jones was recently met with a large crowd of students, faculty, and community members in Lincoln Auditorium for her discussion on investigative reporting.

Author of the book They Were Soldiers, which details sexual abuse and homicide in the U.S. military,  Jones was introduced to the audience as “the voice for women and men in the #metoo movement, the military, and domestic violence.”

Jones briefly detailed her time in Afghanistan; she initially went to help the citizens rebuild their communities long before she began her investigative reporting within the military.

“I knew more about Afghan culture than the American soldiers,” Jones said. “It was a strange situation.”

Jones reminded the audience that wartime reporting is just one kind of investigative reporting. She then stated that the core of investigative journalism is that when someone persists on an inconsistent or incorrect narrative, it is the journalist’s job to expose its flaws, disrupt the narrative, or straight up break it.

Jones walked the audience through a brief history of democracy and explained how it and journalism walk hand in hand. Democracy is a relatively modern concept, conceived by the Athenians and meaning “rule by the people.” Dating back to the birth of the United States, “it was the citizens’ duty to participate, to allow [democracy] to survive,” Jones said. “People were free to participate in governing for the common good.”

Jones noted that the United States Constitution uses the phrase that “men are created equal,” specifically white, property owning men, excluding women of all kinds and men of color.

“Democracy must work for everyone,” Jones said in criticism of how the U.S. employs democracy.

Jones explained how several Nordic countries such as Scandinavia and Finland, mistakenly labeled as socialist, are actually utilizing capitalism fairly. People are taxed as individuals, the majority of women in the country work, and necessities such as food and medicine are more easily accessible. These are the results many Americans marched for during the Civil Rights Movement.

“I wore out many pairs of boots walking the streets of this country to make sure our voices were heard,” Jones said.

When it comes to journalism, these differences in how the U.S. government runs compared to other socialist countries have been investigated worldwide. Journalists have helped to project the voices of those marching and reported the facts on what was going on with the government. Journalists fought to preserve democracy during these times.

Jones also commented that many mainstream media reporters do not fully or truly investigate matters, which contributes to audiences being unable to distinguish real news from fake news. She noted that “so much time is spent on speculation,” which is not true reporting.

“People argue about things that just don’t matter; they spend too much time asking each other ‘what do you think?’ and they get confused and don’t know what they’re fighting about,” Jones said. “If the reporters don’t know what they’re fighting about, then neither do we.”

Jones recounted the experiences of her colleagues who were invited on news shows to discuss stories they had been reporting on. They are always asked, “what do you think will happen next?” which is not the role of the journalist.

“There is no room for opinions,” Jones said. “Journalists want to know what is really going on, not what we think is going on or what will go on.”

In closing, Jones believes that the U.S. has work to do to become a true representation of all the voices that live here.

“We’ve come a long way from Athens,” she said.

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Writer Lewis Hyde talks Ownership, Intellectual Property, and the Cultural Commons at UMF

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Lewis Hyde, author of Common as Air, defends the idea of a cultural commons at UMF

In wake of the final 12 New Commons Project nominations being selected, poet, essayist, and author of the book Common as Air Lewis Hyde visited UMF to speak in defense of the cultural commons and discuss the question of “who exactly owns what?” Hyde was met with a full house of students and faculty members, as well as a livestream of the event on Facebook.

English professor Kristen Case introduced Hyde and discussed his book, noting that the core of his discussion would be centered around the battle of intellectual property and the entertainment industry.

“If you haven’t bought it, you stole it,” Case said when quoting Hyde’s book.

As a scholar who served as a writing professor at both Harvard and Kenyon College, Hyde began his discussion on the concept of ownership and copyright laws with an example from his university experiences.

“We get emails from the entertainment industry to remind us how harsh the law is when it comes to pirating movies and music,” Hyde said. “‘Theft is a harsh word,’ they said, and while that is true, is there more to it?”

Hyde continued with an analysis of the rise of digital media and how internet platforms have confused the rules of “who owns what.” He posed one of the core questions, “what is property?” which can be defined as having the ability to give the “right to exclude,” meaning you can prevent people from using or interacting with said piece of property.

“A commons is defined as a wealth of resources that can be used by the whole community, which therefore means you can’t exclude people from using it,” Hyde pointed out when drawing this argument back to the New Commons.

Given the definition of a regular commons, a cultural commons can be defined as a wealth of artistic resources, culturally significant ideas and works, and the management of ideas.

“Given that definition and logic, the only way to keep people from using art and ideas is to keep it all in your head,” Hyde said.

This led to the “tragedy of the commons,” the idea that only so much grass can grow, meaning that the resources can be limited and run out if not monitored. Can too many people “own” one idea?

“Some of the copyrighted [New Commons] nominations may have some problems and zones of conflict,” Hyde said. “How should we manage the fruits of human creativity?”

Hyde then noted founding father Benjamin Franklin and his refusal to copyright or patent his works and inventions. The fact that he had help with every element, from concepts to how things should work, came from someone else.

“What am I? My works have been nourished by countless individuals,” Franklin said in regards to this matter. “My work is the work of a collective.”

This led to the “thesis” of Hyde’s argument; sharing ideas is how we improve them. Creative work belongs in the commons because it circulates knowledge for future generations. Although the issue becomes more complicated when you mix labor into the idea, the fact that someone interacted with the art and the idea means that new ideas are born, whether you want that result or not.

“What is the self that comes into being in the presence of someone else’s art?” Hyde questioned.

The final 12 New Commons nominations have been selected; to find out what they are, or to learn more about the New Commons Project, visit the website at http://newcommons.umf.maine.edu/.

American Dreams: Immigration Stories Promotes Reflection on What it Means to Be an Immigrant in the United States

In response to recent rhetoric surrounding immigration, professor Linda Britt wrote the play American Dreams: Immigration Stories, a collection of stories from the perspective of immigrants currently living in the United States. Britt took inspiration from such incidents as the immigration ban and the jeopardization of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy to represent people from multiple countries across several generations.

“This play was sparked by the news that we see everyday about immigrants and where they’re from and the rhetoric that’s coming out about there being ‘bad’ immigrants,” Britt said.

The characters in Britt’s stories had mixed viewpoints on living in America. Some did not actually want to be here, such as a 53-year-old homesick Bosnian woman whose daughter lived in the States and a 22-year-old Iranian student who was trapped in the U.S. after her student visa expired. Others worked hard to make a living here and wished to pursue “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” such as a gay man from Egypt escaping persecution and a young woman from South America whose parents were deported after living in the U.S. legally for over 20 years.

“I wanted people to think about that question, ‘what would you do if you were me?’” Britt said.

English professor Misty Krueger portrayed 42-year-old Emily, an immigrant from England. In an email interview, she expressed her interest in Emily’s character comes from the fact that even though she is considered charming, she is still viewed at as a “porcelain doll” and “pretty actress” because of her accent.

“I liked Emily’s story because I could imagine someone like her really enjoying her life in the States and feeling somewhat guilty about being that ‘good immigrant’ type–the one that people forget is actually an immigrant,” Krueger said. “I could imagine Emily’s empathy, and her questioning of what makes her any different than anyone else.”

Junior English major Aurora Bartley played a French immigrant named Celeste, whose character also managed to find success in the U.S. When preparing for the role, Bartley expressed difficulties in putting herself in the shoes of a new mother getting her green card.

“When we had our first small group rehearsal, I got to hear a bunch of other monologues and other immigrant experiences. After hearing the connection other people had with their stories, I was able to feel mine more,” Bartley said. “I was able to put more emotion into mine. I was able to put myself there emotionally because other people in the room were doing that too.”

Britt described the first meetings when she was first conceptualizing the play. After an initial meeting with Anthropology professor Nicole Kellett, Director of International and Global Studies (IGS) Linda Beck, and various IGS students, they determined that the usual lecture style was too academic for the message they wanted to convey.

“One of the students who was in this meeting said, ‘it’s always the same people who come to the roundtable discussions. The people that need to hear about these aren’t going to come to a roundtable, where people are talking at you.’ So I offered to write a play,” Britt said. “It would be different because it’s entertainment, but at the same time it deals with the issues, and maybe people who don’t normally come would come to this.”

Bartley and Krueger both agreed that their backgrounds in English helped them prepare for the play.

“Being an English major helped me with performing the monologue, and having an understanding of the words and the sentence structure,” Bartley said. “Linda wrote it as though a French person was trying to translate it from French to English so some of the sentences were flip flopped and it was a different structure, but it was interesting.”

For Krueger, her additional background in theatre was an important factor in her preparation for the play, including a dissertation on drama, directing plays of her own, and studying literature in England, the homeland of her character.

“I feel really comfortable in a theater. My background in English literature helped too because I have spent a lot time in England, as well, studying drama and fiction,” Krueger said. “But my background in linguistics also helped because linguistics asks you to think about every sound you make and to differentiate between sounds.”

Bartley and Krueger also agreed that participating in this play gave them a new perspective on immigration issues in the United States. For Bartley, the play made her think about why people choose to leave their homes and how they came to America.

“[The play] got me thinking about why people are so discriminative; maybe it’s because they’re different, maybe it’s because ‘they’re taking our jobs,’ but those are just silly reasons,” Bartley said. “This play felt a bit sad but they’re stories that need to be heard and I’m thankful I heard them.”

Krueger noted that the stories made the issue feel more personal. The cast spent time reflecting on the stories and the fact that there are real people experiencing these situations.

“When we read the news or only the headlines, we just see another sad story and then tend to move on with our days,” Krueger said. “These characters are based on actual people who are living in the US here and now. This is America now. We have to respond to the unethical treatment of people who have lived in this country and who have made it their homes. Telling these stories is only a small part of what we need to do, but it is a start.”

For Linda Britt, her aim was to get the audience to look at immigrants with empathy and to put themselves in the shoes of others.

“I had several people come up to me; this one fellow, elderly gentleman from Yugoslavia just wanted to thank me for telling the stories,” Britt said. “He wasn’t the only one; it meant something to the whole community. I hope people could just see these immigrants as humans.”