No. 5, Fall/Winter2000

Special Issue:
The Arab World

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Global Fusion Conference Lives Up to Its Name

by TBS Managing Editor Sarah Sullivan

Global Fusion 2000 participants met this October to discuss global communications amidst a swirl of baseball fever—just blocks away, the St. Louis Cardinals were battling the New York Mets for the National League championship. But the communications scholars fared much better than the Cardinals. Global Fusion, organized by Southern Illinois University, was widely praised for its organization and for the depth and quality of work presented.

The conference, organized by Leo Gher of SIU, was born out of SIU's desire to increase its commitment to international and intercultural education. This first Global Fusion meeting drew around 150 participants, getting the word out through its endorsement by three major international journalism education organizations, AEJMC, BEA, and ICA. TBS, as a conference affiliate, sponsored a luncheon and will publish award-winning papers in the Spring 2001 issue.

The first day was dedicated to two sessions of pre-conference workshops. "Media Ethnography and Globalization," looking at theory and practice of ethnographic method in mass media research, was a two-part session that spanned both workshop periods to allow for many presentations and a more comprehensive audience discussion. Another workshop focused on how to plan and build websites for conferences, departments, and classroom use, and a third examined strategies for obtaining research grants, specifically Voice of America awards and Fulbright fellowships. That evening's keynote speech by Dr. Hussein Amin, professor of mass communications at the American University in Cairo and TBS senior editor, outlined some broad themes of a vision for new media.

That now-standard buzzword "convergence" was apparent, not just in that panels covered the Internet, cinema, radio, television, and other communications media and technologies within the overarching theme of communications across borders, but also in that as the conference progressed, similar themes and questions came up in various ways, with different perspectives. This made for a delightful--and unusual in a three-day event--depth of focus, with quite diverse and specific case studies constantly referring back to and shedding further light on the same questions of how individuals, communities, nations, and regions are negotiating a global media environment.

True to its name, Global Fusion offered a "global" dimension not seen in every event that claims to be international in scope. There were many region-specific panels (such as "The Impact of 21st Century Media on Middle Eastern Mass Communications" and "Western Images in Asian Media"), but just as significant were panels that gave cross-cultural perspective. For example, the panel "Media Crossing Borders: Myth or Morality" was particularly successful in pinning down specific examples of the implications of global communications. Thomas Johnson of SIU and Masoud Abdulrahim of Kuwait University measured how Arabian Gulf audiences rate the credibility of online and traditional news media. Adel Iskandar Farag, an Egyptian graduate student at the University of Kentucky, looked at transnationalism as identity, raising questions of identity formation under conditions of immigration and globalization. Tamara Gillis of Elizabethtown College discussed the use of civic journalism as a means of conflict resolution in sub-Saharan Africa, outlining training workshops that were held for local journalists and how the community could get involved. Tom McCourt of the University of Illinois discussed the cultural implications of online music and the potential effects of a breakdown of record labels' monopoly over distribution.

"Millennium Perceptions of New and Old Media" is another example of a panel that was able to hint at larger questions through particular studies. Thimios Zaharapoulos of Washburn University looked at family relationships and television viewing in Greece; Maria Raicheva of SIU examined Bulgaria's media in transition; Vicki Mayer of the University of Texas-San Antonio discussed her research on Latino media in San Antonio, and Diamantis Bassantis of the Greek Ministry of Press and Mass Media talked about digital radio in Europe, Greece in particular. These presentations—especially those by Zaharapoulos and Mayer, which were based on recent ethnographic research—brought out ways in which particular regions or communities actually use media, and raised questions of cultural specificity within a global context.

Other panels tackled practical topics like successful grant writing, or focused on international communications law, advertising, stereotyped images in the media, mass media research, and journalism education.

The general consensus at the conference-end business meeting was, don't mess with a good thing. Ideas for expanding Global Fusion in future years included more "getting the word out" to draw more participants, affiliating with regional organizations such as the Arab-US Association for Communication Educators, and publishing papers and/or a conference report online. But the infrastructure is in place, and organizers hope that what worked well—a good time and location, and lots of happy first-year participants—will carry over to next year. TBS

Copyright 2000 Transnational Broadcasting Studies
TBS is published by the Adham Center for Television Journalism, the American University in Cairo