Friday, November 13, 2015

Upon 50th anniversary, Fletcher’s Edward R. Murrow Center undergoes revitalization

Catherine Perloff,

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In 1965, the Edward R. Murrow Center of Public Diplomacy was established at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy to honor the famed journalist and to further Fletcher’s program of public diplomacy. Fifty years later, through additional course offerings and initiatives, the Center’s leaders hope to reinvigorate an institution that forms an enduring part of the school’s mission and Murrow’s legacy.
An award-winning journalist that came to prominence during WWII, Edward R. Murrowi nfluenced the field of broadcast journalism and produced a famous critique of Senator McCarthy’s communist witch-hunt. He also served as director of the United States Information Agency between 1961 and 1964 and helped transform the agency from one that focused on cultural programming to one dedicated to public diplomacy. 
“The Edward R. Murrow Center was established in 1965 in memory of the man whose distinguished reporting and analysis of world news and imaginative leadership of the United States Information Agency set a standard of excellence,” the Center’s website says.
Murrow’s career was particularly relevant to the Fletcher School in terms of “public diplomacy,” a term coined by Dean Edmund A. Gullion at the time of the Center’s installation that refers to “the influence of public attitudes on the formation and execution of foreign policies.” 
Thus began the connection between the life and works of Murrow and the Fletcher School. The Center’s physical archive, which resides in the Fletcher School and in the University Archives, includes Murrow’s library, papers and audio and visual recordings.
Vice Chairman of the Board of the Fletcher School Hans Binnendijk (F ’69) said that when he and fellow alumni attended the Fletcher School in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Center was a vibrant place for scholarship and learning.
“We all tremendously benefited from the Murrow Center during that period,” he said, referring to himself and two other alumni, current Murrow Center Director Edward Schumacher-Matos (F ’72) and Richard Weintraub (F ’72).
“We were all shaped in our early thinking by the Murrow Center as it was in the ’60s [and] early ’70s,” Binnendijk said. “I was a research assistant at the Murrow Center in the late ’60s and did some publishing there. It taught several courses on public diplomacy and journalism.”
However, as the Center approached its 50th birthday, alumni worried that it was starting to lose its initial vitality.
“We all were concerned that the Murrow Center was becoming moribund,” Binnendijk said. “It didn’t have an adequate funding. Its web page…was way out of date. It was not active in the school. It wasn’t holding programs and conferences. Student enrollment seemed to be in decline.”
Schumacher-Matos emphasized that the Murrow Center suffered from fiscal problems.
“What was lacking was money,” Schumacher-Matos said. “The Murrow Center has always had a lot of one-off programs and a few courses attached to it…but little in the way of an ongoing research initiative [and] ongoing programs.”
Since 2014, these three alumni, in conjunction with Dean of the Fletcher School James Stavridis, board members, professors and other members of the Fletcher community have been working to revamp the Center. Binnendijk told the Daily in an email that these community members submitted a proposal to Stavridis for the revitalization of the Murrow Center on March 1, 2014. One of the new initiatives is to ensure the Center can prepare students to respond to current public diplomacy issues.
“[There] would be study of media, and particularly social media and information flows on global affairs,” Binnendijk said. “The Murrow Center and Fletcher and Tufts would become a place where…the theory of international communications would be taught.”
Additionally, the Center would ideally help students learn certain journalism skills, such as public speaking and analytical writing, in order to apply it to their future careers.
“This is what we call professional development,” Binnendijk said. “There would be not just journalism courses on how to be a good international journalist, but also how to have impact with these tools: blogging, using video footage, tweeting.”
This emphasis is highlighted in several Fletcher courses being offered now.
“I’m teaching a course on how to influence the Global Debate,” Schumacher-Matos said. “That’s kind of a writing course, writing news and analysis. We’re teaching another course about how to use video to have international impact.”
“The Arts of Communication,” a course on public speaking and facing the media, will also be offered, according to Mihir Mankad, the course’s lecturer. While the course was not originally designed under the auspices of the Center, Schumacher-Matos and Binnendijkboth said it serves to advance the goals of the Center.
Another goal is to use the Center to increase the publicity of faculty research. This initiative has produced several new projects.First, a new television studio was created in 2015 so that news channels such as CNN or China Central Television (CCTV) can directly connect with Fletcher experts, without professors having to go to an off-site studio. This effort also ties in with a $1 million Carnegie Corporation grant to help academics better communicate their research with policymakers and the media.
“It enhances the Fletcher name,” Binnendijk said. “It gets the expertise of Fletcher faculty out there in mainstream thinking.”
While the grant was awarded to the Fletcher School and not specifically the Murrow Center, the School hopes to use Murrow Center resources to accomplish the grant’s goals, according to a statement released by Fletcher last September.
Schumacher-Matos said that the Center could perhaps work to solve the problems he sees with United States’ current international communications.
“The government could be better communicating its values and intentions and therefore furthering America,” he said.
Schumacher-Matos described an American public diplomacy model based on the Cold War era that was unable to respond to and utilize new forms of communications and lacked international perspective.
“Too often, we come to think the debate in Washington is the global debate, and it’s not,” he said. “We’re trying to create a national series of workshops with a mix of both Washington hands and Silicon Valley type to totally redesign the American government’s international communication effort.”
Schumacher-Matos listed several potential partners in such initiatives, including the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C. and Stanford University’s International Policy Studies program at Stanford.
He also hopes to create a publishing platform where scholars from around the world could contribute articles about international affairs.
“Think Quartz, think Foreign Policy, think Foreign Affairs — but international, comparative,” Shumacher-Matos said. “All of those are very American-oriented. This would be an attempt to try to be global, to try to be international. There is not an international publication today.”
Mankad noted that this initiative will take a lot of time to get off the ground. However, he hopes to get more involved in advancing this project when his schedule relaxes in the spring.
“It’s a grand initiative,” he said. “It requires resources and a lot of attention and just as the academic year starts it’s been difficult to focus people.”
Furthermore, Schumacher-Matos hopes for more collaboration between the Murrow Center and other departments at Tufts on scholarship in these areas. He listed the Tisch College, computer science department and journalism scholars as potential partners.
“There are a lot of people here thinking about the rest of the world both in terms of international relations and what’s going on with technology,” he said. “There’s so much talent at Tufts and it would be stupid to not take advantage [of it].”
“If Murrow were alive today, he would do something different,” Schumacher-Matos said. “We want to reposition the Murrow Center for the new world.”

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