CN+R publisher, Kentucky professor inspire journalism students in China

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Students in Jilin University's College of Humanities and School of Journalism and Communication wave goodbye after attending a Zoom class lecture last Thursday morning on ‘The Rise and Fall—and Rise—of Community Newspapers in the U.S.’
Students in Jilin University's College of Humanities and School of Journalism and Communication wave goodbye after attending a Zoom class lecture last Thursday morning on ‘The Rise and Fall—and Rise—of Community Newspapers in the U.S.’
Zoom screen grab

CHANGCHUN, China — The distance between Pittsboro and this capital city of Jilin Province is only 6,725 miles, but the two communities felt a lot closer last week.

That’s because Bill Horner III, publisher and editor of the Chatham News + Record, set up shop behind a computer screen Wednesday evening and conducted a lecture — along with a University of Kentucky professor — for journalism students at Jilin University with a 13-hour time difference.

Their presentation, entitled “The Rise and Fall — and Rise — of Community Newspapers in the U.S.,” was held over Zoom for about 100 students, about half of whom attended the lecture in person as part of a 9 a.m. Thursday journalism class.

“I am deeply impressed by the professor’s research on American community newspapers,” said Zhang Zhe, 22, a journalism major in the College of Humanities and School of Journalism and Communication, whose hometown of Datong, in Shanxi Province, is 13 hours away by car from his university. “With the development of the Internet, although the paper media is increasingly declining, people’s need for information about economy, politics and social life will never weaken.”

The lecture, the second in a Cultural Integration & Academic Cooperation Lecture Series, was hosted by Jilin University’s College of Humanities and School of Journalism and Communication and the Institute of Chinese Culture. It was co-organized by the North Carolina Chinese Scholars Sino-US Exchange Association.

Jilin University journalism associate professor Zhang Siqi is a past president of the North Carolina scholars association, serving as vice president and president in 2019-2020 when she was a visiting scholar at Duke University.

The first lecture in the series was given by Duke professor Kang Liu on “Chinese Problems of Western Theory: The Development Venation of Journalism and Communication in China.”

Horner’s lecture, following a PowerPoint designed by UK journalism professor Buck Ryan, traced the rise of newspapers in America from Colonial times to the 20th century, then a dramatic fall in the last 15 years, and now the promise of a rebound through innovations modeled by the Chatham News + Record.

Among those innovations are a Spanish-language newspaper, La Voz de Chatham (The Voice of Chatham), the “Carpool” parenting newsletter, and a collaboration with a local coffee roaster to sell The Chatham Brew, also the name of a thrice-weekly email newsletter. The lesson included vocabulary, such as “UX,” referring to Horner’s efforts to improve the “user experience” of his newspaper’s website.

“The graphs and charts of the lecture are very rich, and the expressions of the two speakers are humorous and easy to understand,” said Gao Shurui, 23, a journalism and communication major from Tieling, Liaoning Province.

Her province borders North Korea and is known for its coal mining. She said she aspires to be an editor like Horner some day.

For Cong Shan, 24, a journalism and communication major from Harbin, the most interesting part was “what Professor Buck Ryan told about the history of American newspapers, especially about the Civil War and World War II,” and the wars’ effect on newspaper growth and circulation increases.

Cong’s hometown of Harbin, in Heilongjiang Province, is known for its winter festival with massive, illuminated ice and snow sculptures to warm your heart amid the below-zero temperatures.

Zhang Zhe, whose dream job in the future is to be an editor or a teacher, saw hope for local news.

“Through the lecture, I realized that the audience cares more about the news facts close to them,” he said. “From this perspective, community newspapers are high-quality media surrounding people, and they have a promising future.”

About the authors: Buck Ryan, director of the Citizen Kentucky Project of the University of Kentucky’s Scripps Howard First Amendment Center, is conducting “a participatory case study” of the News + Record, which he views as a national model for a community newspaper. Dou Yuanyuan, 22, one of professor Zhang Siqi’s star students at Jilin University’s School of Journalism and Communication, hails from Dingzhou, a city about the size of Dallas, Texas, in Hebei Province. She wants to be a journalist in the future.


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