This week, I’ll be attending Congress of Humanities and Social Sciences, one of the biggest annual conferences in Canada, held this year at the University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario. I try to attend Congress whenever I can, though of course conferences are pricey (as I’ve discussed in the past) and must be juggled with other work. Since this year’s conference is so close to where I live, it’s relatively easy for me to “drop in” just for a few days. I’ll be presenting twice at the Canadian Communication Association conference, and taking a third extra day to meet up with people who are coming in from around (and outside of) Canada.
At academic conferences, usually if you’re attending in person then you’re there not just for the presentations but also for the social contact (which often leads to new academic connections). Yet there’s also a bit of a paradox at work at large conferences. On the one hand, it’s true that conferences can be a great place to meet new people if you don’t have an existing academic network. But if you don’t organise beforehand it can be hard to find anyone who hasn’t already booked up their conference time “catching up” with friends and colleagues from other universities, provinces, and countries. That’s partly why the “networking” that we expect to engage in at conferences can be difficult to achieve, even though there are so many people packed into the same space over a short period.
My answer to this problem of “getting a foot in the door” has been to use Twitter to meet academic friends and organise in advance. Congress was much better last year in Fredericton (New Brunswick) than the previous time I attended, because I knew more people and used social media to contact and meet up with them. This year, I created an open Google Doc and invited people to add their names and availability for a get-together. Based on that information I’ve been able to organise a “tweet-up” (on Thursday May 31st, 7 p.m., at the Huether Hotel — Lion Brewery) and also a breakfast with Twitter friends earlier in the week.
As for the more academic content at Congress, my first presentation will be with Maija Saari (@ffi_maija) who’s working on a PhD at OISE and is Academic Chair of the School of Communication Media & Design at Centennial College (she is busy!). Our panel is “Journalism Ethics” (Session 6A, AL 105, 10:15am, Thursday May 31), and the paper we’re writing is the outcome of a conversation we had about egregious news interviews and what makes them so interesting (and offensive!). We decided to do an analysis of three controversial interviews: George Galloway and Anna Botting (Sky News), Margie Gillis and Krista Erickson (Sun News), and Chris Hedges and Kevin O‘Leary (CBC). The goal of our piece is to show, using theories of communication, linguistics and ethnography as well as the interview examples, how and why journalism training should incorporate critical analytic approaches.
My second talk is on Friday June 1st at 1:15 p.m., on the panel “Issues of Training and Practice” (Session 11A, Room 105). This paper relates closely to a number of blog posts I’ve written over the past year or so, which addressed various issues with media coverage of universities and postsecondary education. In my talk I’ll be giving some detailed examples from news articles, exploring as a case study the ways in which tuition is discussed in the news — as an accessibility issue (or not), as a means of highlighting generational divides, and as a touchstone topic in the debate about the “value” of university education for individuals and for society.
During the three days I’m attending Congress I’ll be posting updates on Twitter (as will various colleagues including @UA_Magazine and @PublicIntellec; the hashtag is #Congress2012), and the conference’s “Big Thinking” talks are being webcast. Hopefully you’ll get the chance to follow along or, if you’re lucky, to attend the conference yourself!