SFU media stars never too busy for press

January 10, 2008

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The assassination of Pakistan’s Benazir Bhutto sent Canadian journalists clamouring for local analysis and reaction. And within minutes of being contacted at home by public affairs and media relations staff, history professor Andre Gerolymatos and public policy professor Doug McArthur were fielding calls.

Three years ago on Boxing Day, it was earth sciences professor John Clague whose holidays were interrupted when news of a catastrophic tsunami prompted reporters to seek his expert analysis.

The three were among more than a dozen nominees for the 2007 President’s award for service, which recognizes a faculty or staff member who demonstrates outstanding service to SFU by sharing expertise with the larger community through media and public relations.

The 2007 winner is Rob Gordon, director of the School of Criminology, who says “I’ve always considered responding to the media to be part of the job, especially since being appointed director.”

Gordon takes the responsibility further than many would, fielding calls and doing interviews at home, on his boat during summer vacation and, recently, from a hotel room in Atlanta. One week last December was particularly busy, when an international drug bust, a new Taser report and the climax of the Pickton murder trial had the media scrambling for his reaction.

“I’ve never viewed it as a huge inconvenience,” he says. “The media, and indeed the public, are often looking for a balancing or informed point of view.”

Gordon’s first experience with the media was in Melbourne in the late 1970s, while working to promote Australia’s first community law centre. He later followed his interest in criminology to SFU where he completed a master’s degree. He finished a PhD at UBC and then returned to Burnaby Mountain.

“Because crime stories are prominent daily events, it’s not surprising that we are in a better position than most to be dealing with a lot of media calls,” says Gordon, who is on the cover of this month’s The Scrivener, magazine of B.C.’s notaries public. “But it’s nice to be acknowledged for the time and the effort that does go into it.”

One of the media award’s first recipients, business professor Lindsay Meredith—who keeps a suit jacket and tie behind his office door in case the media calls—can attest to the challenges that sometimes arise when providing media commentary.

“Once during a strike of makeup artists at a local TV station, I was in the rare position of needing to put on my own makeup, alongside then-anchor Russ Froese,” he recalls. “Russ very kindly gave me instruction, and I recall thinking what a strange scenario, getting makeup tips from another guy. Somehow we managed to come off looking reasonably good.”

Public policy professor Doug McArthur, who has done more than 50 interviews in the past year, says “I consider it my responsibility to contribute to public information and education by responding to the media.”

Some nominees note that while the award is a good start, more recognition at the departmental level would prompt even greater participation.
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