In Memory of Denise Gess

Announcement: A celebration of Denise will be held on October 2nd at 7:00 p.m. in Westby Art Gallery. Anyone wishing to pay tribute to Denise by relating a special memory or reading from her work or your own can contact Ron Block ( or Julia Chang (

Our college lost a much loved and respected member this week.  Professor Denise Gess died at 6:30 Saturday morning, August 22.  Denise was a faculty member in the Writing Arts program, recently having been granted tenure and promotion at Rowan.  She was an amazing, vivacious, optimistic, intelligent, and talented woman, teacher, author, and colleague.  Her presence at Rowan and in our lives will be sorely missed.

In clear indication of how much she impacted the lives of those around her, several friends and colleagues have published tributes in recent days.  A tribute from her friend and fellow author, Paul Lisicky can be found here.  A wonderful and moving piece writing by Professor Julia Chang can be accessed at this location.  Information regarding a planned tribute reading at City College is also on Paul’s blog spot.

If you would like to read some of Denise’s wonderful work, see “Painting the Personal Essay,” “Not Tony and Tina,” or check out one of her books: Good Deeds, Red Whiskey Blues, and Firestorm at Peshtigo (with Bill Lutz).

Denise has clearly left her mark upon the college, her friends and family, and the literary world.  We can only wish she had longer to do so.


News in the Age of the Internet

The cause/effect relationship between media presentations of news and public perceptions of what is or is not important has long been debated and researched in communication studies.  Various theorists and scholars, as well as media agencies, have proposed a variety of relationships between news media and public sentiment.  Media agents and organizations most commonly claim that they provide viewers with what they want.  They use ratings numbers and viewership statistics to prove that we “like” entertainment news, reality programming, seeing the failures in the lives of others, etc.  Some theorists, such as Stuart Hall, argue that the media are a powerful force that supports and sustains an ideology held by those in power.  Thus, the media give us messages that support the needs and desires of some segments of the culture, while silencing other voices.  Some scholars, like Maxwell McCombs and Donald Shaw, indicate that the media may not tell us what to think, but they certainly tell us what to think about (so, when the breakup of Jon and Kate is one of the top stories on CNN for several weeks running, it seems important to us and thus we spend our mental and communicative energy on it).

Whatever the case, it seems clear that there is some connection between our understandings of the world and what is represented in media messages, particularly with regard to “things” with which we have no direct experience.  Given the upheaval of the media landscape in recent years, we now have to reconsider the connections between the wants/needs/beliefs of viewers and the dominant media messages.

In a spring section of an upper level communication course, I asked students how many of them had read a print newspaper in the preceding week.  One or two hands were raised.  I asked how many had looked at CNN or another corporate news site online in that same period and over half of the class raised their hands.  As we then began to discuss participant “news” sites (blogs, twitter, etc.), it was clear that most of the students in the class had visited more than one participant “news” venue – not simply in the preceding week, but in the day prior to our discussion.  This is an intriguing, and potentially powerful, change to the way news is accomplished.

Even in more traditional media formats, like television or newspapers, the media landscape seems to be changing to a more participatory model.  Online version of print papers contain options for submission of news stories, debates about issues of public concern, and comments on paper content.  CurrentTV, a television “news” network, offers viewers the opportunity to create news “pods,” responses, reviews, and ads – thus bringing more interactivity into broadcast television than has ever been seen before.

So, what does all of this mean for us as media consumers and participants and as cultural and world citizens?  That remains to be seen.  If our interactive media forms are simply another venue to discuss the same issues (last weekend, in Philadelphia, the story of the Eagles signing Michael Vick was top news in traditional formats, and was also one of the most common subjects in Twitter’s news feed), maybe the changes won’t be particularly startling.  But, if these interactive media forms create an avenue for us to bring issues to the forefront that might not otherwise gain public attention, or if they provide us with insight into experiences we cannot access directly or through traditional media, the whole future of how we learn and what we “know” may undergo a seismic change.

In any case, it’s all very exciting for a communication scholar, student, or fan.  So, get “out there” and check it out.  Read some blogs, tune in to CurrentTV, check out the Twitter feed… see what people are saying and make some comparisons between that and what you see in your mainstream media outlets.  What do you think the future of “news media” holds for us?


Another new year…

Most of us look forward to New Years Day, in part for the fun of the eve or the Mummer’s parade on New  Years morning, but in part because if feels like a new start.  It’s a chance to think through what you accomplished (or struggled with) in the past year and plan ahead to reach new goals for the upcoming months.  We set resolutions, like exercising or eating right, to give ourselves a sense of a new start and a new commitment to such goals.  They don’t always work out, but sometimes they do.

Those of us in the academic world, whether as teachers, students, or administrators, get a second “new year” in the late summer.  The start of the new academic year, like the start of the calendar year, teems with new possibilities.  We think about how we might organize our school work this time around to be more efficient or more enjoyable.  We head out to our favorite stores to buy new pens, folders, notebooks, and reams of printer paper (it doesn’t really matter how old you are, there is something nice about a brand new notebook with pristine covers and pages waiting to be filled).  We get out the day planner that may have gone unused over the summer months and start to plot out the semester ahead.  And, we make resolutions for our new academic year.  We promise ourselves that we’ll study harder, or grade those papers in a more timely fashion.  We say that we’ll plan ahead to avoid all-nighters, schedule in time to eat right and exercise, and avoid procrastinating the readings we need to do for class (whether as the instructor or the student).

It’s easy to make the promises to yourself and others at the start of the new year, calendar or academic.  It’s much harder to keep them.  But, scientific studies tend to suggest that behaviors completed on a consistent basis over several weeks become habitual and are more resistant to breakage.  So, start now on those new behaviors that you have planned for the semester ahead.  Begin reading for an hour or two in the evening instead of surfing the net.   Go to bed at a reasonable time and get up around the time you’ll  need to be up for your classes.  Start that exercise class and eating plan now instead of later.  Label and organize all of your materials to set yourself up to succeed in the goals you have for this new year.  Make a list of your resolutions and post it somewhere in your room, or on your facebook page, or your blog… feeling responsible to someone besides self is often a good motivator for getting things done.

The new academic year brings opportunities and challenges.  Some of the challenges, you just have to wait until the classes start and then attempt to address them (meeting new people, learning new names, working on the required assignments, developing a good relationship with your office/dorm/suite mates).  But, if you make some of the others a habit now, you may find that spacing out the challenges ahead makes them somewhat easier to meet and turns them into opportunities for positive change and a true chance to reach your New Year’s resolutions.

Happy New Year!