March 15, 2004
Public Communication A "Mess"
Public communication, says Calvin professor of communication arts and sciences Quentin Schultze, is a mess these days.
"Janet Jackson's recent publicity stunt during the Super Bowl is just one example," he says. "What about the charges, pro and con, about Mel Gibson's film about the Crucifixion? Should people who haven't seen the film be promoting or assailing it on talk shows? And what about the controversy over the BBC's reporting about the British government's involvement in Iraq?"
Schultze says he hopes new Calvin Workshops in Media and Theatre can play a small part in improving public communication. The program will sponsor a variety of one-day and weeklong workshops led by excellent communicators from the realms of media and stage.
"There are," says Schultze, "many workshop programs that offer budding professionals a chance to learn communication skills, but few that address such important issues of quality, ethics and service. We aim to ask the toughest questions: How can public communicators serve society, not just their own organizations or careers? What is the public interest? And what is truly good communication?"
The new project will get off to a good start on April 26 when Calvin graduate Jeff Veen hosts a one-day workshop called "Beyond Usability: Designing Meaningful Web Experiences."
Veen, says Schultze, is an example of the kind of talented communicator the Calvin Workshops in Media and Theatre is bringing to West Michigan regularly.
Veen launched HotWired.com in 1994 and then went on to become a founding partner of Adaptive Path, a user-experience consulting company. He wrote a book called "The Art & Science of Web Design" and is a columnist for Webmonkey. He also has written for such publications such as "Wired." In 1998, CNet named him one of the "First Annual Web Innovators."
"Jeff Veen," says Schultze, "might be the top Web design consultant in the country. He encourages organizations to serve Web users, not to manipulate them. The fact that he is a Calvin graduate made him a special person to invite for the premiere Calvin Workshops event."
The one-day workshop Veen will lead promises to be a good model for future Workshops in Media and Theatre events. It will offer a broad perspective on Web design, but also will equip workshop participants with design techniques and a library of documentation templates that can be used right away.
"We are providing workshops resources on a password-protected Web site that is accessible only to those who attend workshops," says Schultze. "This will give Veen and other presenters an opportunity to share their materials after the workshops is completed."
In August Calvin will host another one-day workshop when Brad VanArragon leads a session on "Managing Film and Television Productions for Studio and Location." Van Arragon has worked in film and TV since graduating from Calvin in the last decade with credits that include production manager for "The Chris Isaak Show" on Showtime. And he is currently working on "Edison," a feature film with Morgan Freeman and Kevin Spacey that just added to its cast Justin Timberlake, at the center of the recent Super Bowl controversy.
"Brad will undoubtedly have some recent, first-hand stories about making a film in a media-charged, ethically complicated context," says Schultze.
Weeklong workshops will take place this August on such topics as "Writing Compelling Television Series Drama," "Developing, Writing, Producing, Directing and Submitting a Short Film/Video for Festivals," "Writing and Producing Radio Documentaries," "Producing TV News that Serves and Engages Viewers," and "Creative Process and Principles for Multimedia in Worship."
Says Schultze: "When I arrived at Calvin in 1982 I imagined the college as a possible center for the study of communication ethics. The first media course we added to the curriculum when we formed the department of communication arts and sciences in 1984 was ethics. Ironically, that's the course that's missing in most communication programs across North America."
"The workshops are the logical extension of our mission to serve society by nurturing students of all ages. The CAS faculty has been talking about this for at least ten years. We educators can complain about the state of public communication or we can try to improve it. The Workshops are a place for people to learn together how to be better communicators."
The Workshops use a three-part tag line to express their mission: gratitude, excellence and integrity. "We will encourage professionals to communicate gratefully, excellently and with integrity," says Schultze. "I like St. Paul's phrase, 'a more excellent way.'"