University work usually entails three areas: teaching, research, and service. I teach electronic-media, international-communication and political-communication courses to our undergraduate and master’s students, who are majoring in journalism, advertising, or public relations. As part of my teaching duties, I also serve as the faculty adviser of the university’s student-run TV station, ISUtv. In my research, I get to further explore my academic and professional interests, by conducting studies in the areas of international and political communication. For service, I serve on various institutional and national committees and boards. This year, I happen to be the chair of the Newspaper and Online News Division of the Association for Educators in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC). All these activities keep my job stimulating and rewarding.
How did you get there?
I used to work as a broadcast journalist in Romania. At the recommendation of one of my former college professors, I pursued a master’s degree in the United States. Always the diligent student, the thinking was that I could learn a lot from experts in a country with a long tradition of free media. Journalism was a relatively new profession in my home country at the time, as Romania became a democracy only in 1989, after almost half a century of communist control. As a master’s student, while working on my thesis and assisting professors on fascinating research projects, I fell in love with research. I realised that scientific research and journalism share a lot of similarities. While journalism uses observation and interviews to shed light on issues and current events of public interest, communication research uses scientific methods to investigate production, performance, and effects of media messages. I also discovered that I love teaching and that I can make a difference by paying forward the knowledge and care I received from my mentors. So I stayed on for a doctoral degree (at Louisiana State University), which then allowed me to land the job I have now.
What is a typical day like?
What I love about this job is that every day is different. My job entails a lot of various projects, writing and reading, supervising master’s theses, advising and interacting with students, networking with colleagues, occasional travel to conferences, and even summer externships where I sometimes visit a newsroom for a few weeks to keep my professional skills fresh. During the summer, since academic contracts are only for nine months of the year, I spend my time working on research and preparing newsletters and sessions for AEJMC, which meets annually in August.
Tell us a bit more about your research, focused on foreign correspondence and political communication.
My research uses several methods and theoretical approaches to dissect an endangered but so vital form of journalism: foreign correspondence. As the world is more interconnected than ever and we need to be informed about far-reaching developments abroad, simplistic coverage of the world and reduction in resources dedicated to international stories are troubling trends, made even more complicated by the emergence of new-media technologies.
Research on foreign correspondence is scarce. Early scholars created an aura around foreign correspondents, which emerge as an elite, specialised class, apart and above regular reporters. Both journalists and historians write glowingly about the foreign correspondents of yore while decrying that contemporary foreign news has fallen into a dangerous decline. My research has contributed to this area of scholarship by using social science to track the evolution of the genre from the golden age of foreign correspondence during World War II until the present-day coverage of conflicts. I have tested generally accepted ideas such as “we regressed from Murrow to mediocrity” by going directly to the source, Edward Murrow Boys’ foreign news coverage, and comparing it to contemporary correspondence. My analysis found that we should take such broad statements with a grain of salt, as foreign correspondence practiced by NPR journalists, for instance, outperforms Murrow Boys’ coverage across all journalism-quality variables under investigation.
It’s important to analyse performance in foreign correspondence systematically and in a historical context. As foreign correspondence seeks to reinvent itself and find ways to reach more audiences, my research has also analysed how today’s foreign correspondents promote their work and interact with the public on social media. I am currently working on two studies focused on the Syrian crisis; one compares U.S. media’s framing to Arab media coverage of the events; the other explores foreign correspondents’ reliance on social media as news sources, given the lack of access to the ground (The Committee to Protect Journalists has classified Syria as the most dangerous country for journalists for the past three consecutive years).
My research on foreign correspondence has inspired my secondary line of research, which focuses on political communication. In this area, I have explored topics such as the coverage of the health care debate, the sourcing of the global warming debate, the framing and sourcing of election stories, and the effects of politicians’ use of social media.
Overall, my research argues for a more nuanced and realistic view of foreign correspondence, using social science to better understand what can and should be changed to ensure that foreign news learns from its past, serves the public, and is genuinely foreign, rather than merely a projection of Washington views.
Why did you choose these topics?
When I was my students’ age, I wanted to travel the world as a foreign correspondent. Although I switched career paths, I remain fascinated by foreign correspondence, and I made it the primary focus of my scholarship. I am also an avid consumer of foreign news, given my personal background.
What is the role of foreign correspondents in international relations?
I think foreign correspondents play a tremendous role in public diplomacy. In fact, history informs us that, for a long time, correspondents thought of themselves as diplomats, given their unique access to international officials. While we now may have access to news from abroad via blogs and social media, foreign correspondence requires long-term experience, judgment, foresight, and a strategic overview of world affairs. We need professionals we can trust who have those characteristics. Foreign correspondents’ responsibilities include warning the public to dangers within and without our borders, monitoring the government’s performance in securing our safety and making sure it doesn’t abuse its powers, informing the public about what the government is doing abroad in its name, and educating the public in the historical and geographical contexts behind the news, thus ensuring informed decision-making.
What are the particular advantages and barriers a woman pursuing a career like yours might face?
Unlike foreign correspondence, academic work is certainly a safe choice – literally. I don’t face the challenges that many of the women reporters interviewed by #wifp talked about in previous profiles. My field is rather gender neutral, to be honest. As I go over the works I cite most frequently, many of them are still authored by men, but anyone with a similar interest, regardless of gender, is welcome and encouraged to add their expertise. I find that my co-authors or co-panellists are split equally between men and women. As for foreign correspondence, the news is equally encouraging. Correspondence was, for a long time, practiced almost exclusively by men. Now, for instance, about half of NPR’s foreign correspondents are women – quite an accomplishment, if we consider that in journalism in general the ratio of men to women is 2:1 (if we look at professionals over the age of 26).
What would you recommend to a young woman who would like to pursue a similar career?
Seek out mentors who inspire, encourage, and challenge you. Work hard and demand feedback, regardless of the career you aim to pursue.
What was your first job, and what did you learn doing it you still use today?
I started working at a local TV station when I was very young. I instantly realised that the best learning happens when you combine theory with practice. I try to remember that when I teach, and I always use real-world examples and hands-on assignments to bring a point home. Also, as a young reporter, I had to interview seasoned public officials. As I was setting up to interview them and doing small talk, many confessed they were intimidated by the microphone, camera and lights, not realising how nervous I was myself. It dawned on me that I was in a position of power, despite my lack of experience. That taught me confidence and compassion. It’s all a matter of perspective.
What are the most and least rewarding aspects of your career so far?
Teaching is the most rewarding aspect of my job. I aim to inspire as much as educate, and seeing my students grow and succeed brings me indelible satisfaction. It is less rewarding sometimes when some people, even public officials, don’t understand and dismiss the role of higher education.
What are the key skills that make you good at what you do? How did you gain them?
In both journalism and academic research, curiosity is an important characteristic that needs constant nurturing – through keeping up with news and developments in the field, working with people from different walks of life, questioning over-glossing statements, etc. In both fields, in addition to the tools of the trade, it’s important to have soft skills and emotional intelligence. I always try to remember how I personally would like to have information presented to me, so, in the classroom, I pepper my lectures with anecdotes and humour and aim to engage the students as partners in the creation of knowledge. My teaching goal not only is to share knowledge and impart advice and enthusiasm but also to make students love their profession and take pride in their work, all while being inquisitive and empathetic storytellers.
What is the toughest lesson you have learnt?
It takes a lot of work and patience and thick skin to see your byline on a research article. It can take as many as three years to have your study in print. Even some of the most well meaning blind reviewers can be very harsh sometimes, so I try to remember that and, when I review others’ work, give it the kind of time and respect that I expect for my own. Even on the weakest manuscripts I try to offer encouragement and constructive criticism.
What has been your biggest challenge and how did you tackle it?
My young appearance, compounded with my slight Romanian accent, makes most people assume I am still a student, although I finished my PhD studies more than six years ago. When I first started teaching, I internalised that perception and tried to overcome my sense of lack of authority by being extremely demanding and dressing older than my age. Over time, I learned that students respond better to humor, guidance, and empathy. Now, when people assume I am one of the students, I thank them for the compliment.
What achievements are you most proud of?
I have been in my job long enough now to a have a sizable list of students who graduated and went on to be talented professionals and exceptional human beings. Knowing I had a small contribution to that outcome is one of my proudest achievements.
Do you have a role model and if so who and why?
Speaking strictly about professional role models, I’ve benefited from the wisdom and generosity of many mentors along the way. One of them stands out, though, as I constantly apply the knowledge I learned from him in my research, teaching, and professional interactions alike. That is my dissertation adviser, Dr. Jack Hamilton, who is a prolific scholar and former foreign correspondent. His trust always inspired me to do my best, and I am forever grateful.
Raluca Cozma | Associate Professor of Journalism | Iowa State University
Inspiring girls and young women to choose a career in foreign policy
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