John K. Hartman
Author of The USA Today Way books

Columbus Local News



Professor: Saudi students' interest in U.S. affairs strong

Powell resident John K. Hartman (center) is pictured after a discussion on higher education and exchange programs Jan. 13 at the U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia. With him are (from left): Rebecca Winchester, embassy counselor for public affairs; Hartman's wife, Kay; Dennis Curry, embassy cultural attache; and Priscilla Hernandez, embassy public diplomacy officer.

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* Americans would benefit from learning more about the Middle Eastern country, says a Central Ohio resident fresh from his second trip to King Saud University.


Published: Friday, February 6, 2009 3:14 PM EST

They know a lot more about us than we know about them.

That's just one of the many things John K. Hartman has learned from serving as a visiting professor of journalism at
King Saud University, the largest college in Saudi Arabia.

Hartman, 63, has taught journalism at Central Michigan University for 25 years. He moved to the Powell area in October after 36 years in Bowling Green.

About 14 months ago, he got an unexpected call from a King Saud University professor who wanted to know if he would be interested in coming to the school to teach. The school found out about him through a mutual interest in USA Today -- Hartman is one of the few people who have studied the publication and done research on it, and many Saudis are interested in it, he said.

"I'd never met this gentleman, I knew nothing about KSU and I knew very, very little about the
kingdom of Saudi Arabia," said Hartman.

But after some research, Hartman agreed to head overseas to teach in two-week blocks. Thus far, he has visited twice -- once in the spring and once last month.

Hartman's official title is Al-Jazirah chair for international journalism. The position is sponsored by Saudi Arabia's Al-Jazirah newspaper -- not to be confused with the Al-Jazeera TV station.

During his two sojourns to the Middle East, Hartman taught news reporting and public relations to King Saud students, led a discussion on the changing media environment in the Middle East, gave a keynote address titled "The End of the Print Newspaper" to a university audience, and spoke to the Al-Jazirah staff on investigative reporting.

"The people were very receptive, the students were very receptive, the journalists were very receptive," Hartman said.

The fact that many of the students spoke English only made them more responsive. Hartman could tell which ones knew English, he said, by how long it took them to laugh after he told a joke.

"It was like a wave going through the audience," said Hartman.

His visit also gave Hartman an up-close look at the Saudi media. Radio and TV stations there are run by the government, but newspapers, while still having some degree of government affiliation, are privately owned.

The papers place much more emphasis on photos of people -- rather than of events -- and are much different in appearance than U.S. papers.

"One very big difference is ... the newspapers are printed on glossy stock, more like magazine than newsprint, (so) you get a much better reproduction of the pictures," Hartman said.

Hartman's wife, Kay, accompanied him on his trips. She had the opportunity to be part of some seminars at the school's "girls' university," Hartman said. Male and female students cannot be taught in the same room and thus the university's schools are separate.

"They don't allow men and women to take classes together, but the women participated in my lectures by telecommunication," Hartman said.

Saudis tend to know much more about Americans than we know about them, he said. In fact, many of the professors at King Saud got their graduate degrees right here in
Ohio: two at Ohio State University and one at Ohio University.

They take great interest in U.S. politics, Hartman said. He found it interesting, though, that he seldom got questions about daily life in the

"They didn't ask much about our personal lives, they didn't ask much about what life is like in the United States, but I think it's because most of them knew," Hartman said. "They get a lot of their media from the
U.S., so they're more familiar with our lifestyle."

By contrast, Americans often exhibit little interest in Saudi Arabia, Hartman said. A column he wrote for Editor & Publisher on his visit to Saudi Arabia got little notice, but a column he wrote on the 25th anniversary of USA Today got a massive response.

"It's not that people are for or against Saudi Arabia; it's just so far away that people aren't interested," said Hartman.

Still, despite major cultural differences, Americans have more in common with Saudis than they think -- and the countries would do well to try to learn more about each other, Hartman said.

"I think, all things being equal, we should try to become better friends," he said.



Copyright 2009 - Columbus Local News



John K. Hartman is a professor of journalism at Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant, Michigan.  He is the author of two books, "The USA Today Way 2: The Future" (2000) and "The USA Today Way" (1992).  He has examined much of the research done on young adult newspaper readership and is a widely quoted source on the topic.  Jacqueline Hartman provided editing assistance to the author.

In August 2008 Dr. Hartman covered and blogged the Democratic National Convention for the Mount Pleasant, Mich., Morning Sun. In 2008 Dr. Hartman was named the Al-Jazirah Newspaper Chair for International Journalism at King Saud University in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and visited the kingdom to lecture, teach and give seminars. He is scheduled to return in 2009. To learn more about King Saud University, visit

Copyright 2009, John K. Hartman.  All Rights Reserved.