September 15, 2011

By NAKITA SINGH HANS

STAFF REPORTER

Ryerson University professor Gene Allen will spend time in the republic of Georgia during the next year, advising the journalism department at Tbilisi State University on its curriculum and mentoring the next generation of journalism researchers and teachers.

I have a lot to learn when I get there. Georgia was a Soviet Republic up until 1989 and it takes journalism a long time to change after that,” said Allen, who teaches the history of journalism and introduction to video and TV journalism at Ryerson. “The university has to rework the curriculum. Work needs to be done in development, helping faculty develop research.”

Allen’s appointment as an international scholar is funded by George Soro’s Open Society Foundations, which works to help countries make the transition from communism and promotes greater political and legal rights.

Allen will be working in a country that the World Press Freedom Committee describes as having a “partly free press.” The 2011 World Press Freedom Survey ranked 196 countries as either “free”, “partly free” or “not free.” It revealed that global media freedom has reached a new low point as only one in every six people live with a free press. While Georgia ranked 55th out of 196 in terms of press freedom, the editor-in-chief of a website that monitors human rights in Georgia said journalists still face major challenges.

The website reported that Georgia’s media environment is highly politicised and the freedom level is low. Although the government has not acquired methods to oppress online media, there are fears that online censorship might also increase.

Allen said that after he received an email from the Soros Foundation offering him the position in Georgia, he thought a lot about it before deciding to accept it.

“Being approached by the Soros Foundation was great. In Egypt, Libya and many other parts of Eastern Europe it is very important that we make the effort to develop society,” Allen said. “It is tremendously important at this time in history.”

As an international scholar, Allen will collaborate on the introduction of new courses and offer expert advice on academic planning in the university’s school of journalism. His appointment involves two week-long visits to the university in Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital. He plans to make his first trip in December and a second at the end of April when classes end at Ryerson.

“Georgia is a place I don’t know a lot about. It has a unique language and a unique alphabet,” said Allen, founding director of Ryerson University’s master of journalism program, launched in 2007.

Allen, whose research interests include news and the formation of national identity, the history of news agencies and journalism history, will act as a mentor to young academics who have completed graduate work in Europe or North America and have returned to pursue academic positions at home in Georgia.

“Part of my job will be to work with returning scholars who come back to make a contribution to the university. It’s a bit like being a supervisor of a post-doctorate scholar. I will make the effort to try and get them started. It’s important because they will be the future faculty in two years. ”

Ivor Shapiro, chair of Ryerson’s school of journalism,said Allen’s appointment is an honour for the school of journalism and Ryerson University.

“I think that this is just one more landmark for Ryerson as it develops as a research institution. Gene has been a leader since he came to Ryerson and he’s one of the most important researchers here at the school of journalism.”

Allen’s appointment is for one year but it is renewable for up to six years.

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