Feb. 8, 2001 Vol . 20, No. 3

Meredith, Berggren win president's media award


By Marianne Meadahl

Two SFU professors are being honoured for their part in making SFU a better known institution.

Lindsay Meredith, associate dean of business and Len Berggren, chair of mathematics and statistics are the recipients of the annual President's award for service in media and public relations.

The award committee unanimously chose to honour Meredith for his extensive work with the media and Berggren for his longstanding role in community relations. They'll both be recognized at a reception and at SFU's annual award ceremony Feb. 16.

Meredith (left) is arguably one of SFU's busiest media experts. With an impressive 640 media hits to his credit -- only three "went badly," he says. He's a widely sought by journalists to comment on just about any topic tied to money or marketing, from the rising price of gasoline and e-shopping to the sale of sports franchises and political image-making. He makes every effort to adequately prepare before the cameras arrive. He keeps a suit jacket and tie in his office that he sometimes wears with shorts and sandals in front of the TV cameras.

"I usually ask myself, 'is this down my alley? Do I know more than the guy in the local pub about this?' If so, I can add something here," he says.

Meredith tallied up a Gretzky-like record of 100 media hits in the past year alone. "As professors we are the middle ground," he says.

"In a sense, we become information brokers. As such, the university can play a real role in bringing more light than heat to the debate. What's the pay-off? That gets us noticed. We get the image of being a community player. It's the best marketing you can do."

Meredith has a knack for knowing what journalists want. He concedes it took practice. "You have to think in terms of 10 or 20 second sound bites," he says. "If you give them 20 minutes, then live with the fact only one per cent of that will make it. And it's a given that anything controversial will get used."

Meredith often speaks off the record to reporters and has never regretted it. He helps them to take the story further and consider new angles. "It puts you in the driver's seat," he says. "And it gains you respect." He has even been invited to sit in on key story production and gives advice on sites for camera crews.

Meredith has considerable praise for journalists, whom he calls "the salt of the earth. I swear they are not only trained, but genetically bred to track down the real story," he says. "They know phony faster than you can shake your head."

Like Meredith, Berggren is no stranger to an audience, whether the crowd is a group of stroke recovery patients or a mensa gathering. For the past three decades he's been one of the most available speakers involved with SFU's speakers' bureau and has given more than 70 talks.

An expert on the history of mathematical sciences in ancient Greece and medieval Islam, he has developed a wide range of interests – from time measurement to the politics of Cyprus – as well as a commitment to sharing them.

"The speakers' bureau is a great opportunity for the university and for those of us who are passionate about our work," says Berggren (right), who is also a regular in local schools, where he addresses student and teacher groups.

Finding time to prepare and deliver talks isn't always easy. Berggren says it's a matter of commitment. "You have to decide it's a priority," he says. "It's one way a university researcher can help the community. It's public education of your work."

Berggren maps out his thoughts in advance. "I wish I could speak more off the cuff, but I need to be well-prepared," he admits. "I'm always redoing my talks because they reflect my research interests, and those are always developing."

Berggren has also had his share of the spotlight. Called on to demystify concepts like leap year and the start of the true millennium, he faces the task of explaining difficult concepts in short time frames.

"I'm still a bit nervous," he concedes. "It's hard to choose what honestly reflects what you know without unnecessary complexity. It's something you learn as you do it."

Besides appearing on local radio and in print, Berggren's international media exposure includes the BBC in Scotland and the New York Times.

"I think journalists are appreciative of our expertise," says Berggren. "They are simply trying to tell a story. If we can make it a better one then everybody wins."


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