Don Shafer

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Fifty years on, broadcaster Don Shafer scores an MA

October 03, 2018
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By Christine Lyons

Vancouver broadcasting veteran and innovator Don Shafer had a busy year in 2015. Not only did he begin an SFU master’s program in Graduate Liberal Studies (GLS), he also co-founded city-centric talk/music radio station, Roundhouse Radio.

Shafer wrote his MA thesis, “Climate Change and the Many Faces of Denial,” while working as Roundhouse Radio’s CEO, program director and host of the daily program and podcast, “Impact.”

His motivation to earn an MA stemmed from a desire, he says, to “get as far away as possible from media and journalism” and “to fill in some of the academic holes” in his education.

“I found that liberal arts provided an overarching study of humanity and our history, the physical world we live in and, ironically, how we communicate with each other through our art, dance, sculpture, music, literature, poetry, weaving, mosaics and story-telling,” he says. “We learned how to ask important questions about our world, our differences, where we come from, our history, traditions and beliefs.”

He found that the approach suited both the programming philosophy of Roundhouse Radio and his own approach to creating meaningful dialogue.

Shafer built his thesis around the question, “Why does human inaction against climate change persist despite the growing evidence that our activities are the cause and that the situation is serious?”

It became a narrative-based inquiry that used field texts, stories, journals and interviews from more than 70 global experts. It investigated the varying degrees of denial about climate change, and how climate change relates to social, political and economic issues.

It was a big project, with enough material to comprise a book. Shafer’s not considering publication quite yet, though. This fall, he will be completing a Faber Residency in New Journalism II: an Arts, Sciences and Humanities Residency of Catalonia in Olot, Spain. Expanding upon the ideas in his thesis, Shafer’s new project, “Asking Beautiful Questions”, will examine what it takes to “move beyond a public discourse of certainty or absolutism and understand why achieving a common ground does not have to be a goal.”

Now 71 years old, Shafer says it is somewhat ironic to be involved in communications and journalism again after beginning grad school with the intention of distancing himself from the field. But he’s excited to approach issues from a different angle and engage in international conversations about journalism, climate change and creating space for meaningful dialogue. He is also considering a PhD in human geography.