Perspectives in Journalism

February 3, 2009

Mary Gardner: Opens doors for journalists

Filed under: Education,Journalism,Uncategorized — willnortonjr @ 7:19 pm

Journalists and journalism educators heard about the extraordinary contributions of Mary Gardner, professor emerita at Michigan State University, when the Association of Schools of Journalism and Mass Communication met in Mexico City January 29-31 for the third international workshop sponsored by ASJMC.

At a reception on Thursday night, Alejandro Junco, a fourth generation publisher of Reforma told us that political reform would not have been possible without a more open press.

Will Norton, Jr., dean of the College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Will Norton, Jr., dean of the College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln

He told us that Mary Gardner had played a vital role in helping the press of Mexico become more open. His comments reminded me of a column I wrote about Mary Gardner for an Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication publication. The following is from that column:

In an article in The Journal of Intergroup Relations published in the fall of 2000, Alejandro expressed his appreciation for Mary’s contribution to freedom of expression in Mexico.

“…What she’s given to the people of my country has a value beyond calculation,” Alejandro wrote. “What she’s given to us in inspiration, in understanding, in a passion for the truth, has played a vital role in bringing democracy to a nation.”

When Mary Gardner went to Mexico, it did not have a free press or liberty of the kind Americans enjoy. Alejandro became a crusader “to break with the tradition of media corruption, especially the unconditional support the press had been giving to the Mexican government.”

“…There to guide us for all those tentative first steps, was one inspiring voice: Mary Gardner,” Alejandro wrote.

“I first met her while attending the University of Texas, and I soon came to realize that we in Mexico needed someone of her ability to help educate our future journalists. Twenty magnificent years set a new direction that continues….”

“She gave us fits,” Alejandro said informally before we left his newspaper’s headquarters.

“She gave us all fits,” I responded. When she was active in AEJMC she wanted us all to become all we could be. I recalled Mary gently admonishing me when I was a young professor interviewing at Michigan State University. It is not proper to call students kids, she had told me after I had referred to the Michigan State students as kids.

Her comments were irritating.  I was working diligently to be conscientious and care for students, and this professor was nitpicking, telling me that I still had a way to go if I wanted to make a contribution. Later, when I looked back on that event, I recalled how right she was and how I had such respect for someone who was so sincere that she did not hesitate to let me know her values.

During her career Mary Gardner was detail-oriented. She was a perfectionist, but she also was a visionary, and if democracy thrives in this hemisphere, this driven, diligent professor will have played a major role in the development of freedom and human rights.

Years ago, when she told me of her trips to Monterrey to work at El Norte, I thought her efforts might have a slight significance for the newspaper or perhaps for Monterrey. However, I never for a moment considered that her evangelical advocacy of a free press could ever affect all of Mexico.

I thought of how great it would have been if Mary Gardner could have been present to receive a standing ovation from her colleagues after Alejandro’s praise for his former professor.

Now I wonder who else in AEJMC unselfishly give of their time, energy and expertise so that others can enjoy liberty. And I hope that the spirit of Mary’s ministry in Mexico will live on for years in our association.

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