students' interest in U.S. affairs strong
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.
By GARTH BISHOP
They know a lot more about us than we know
That's just one of the many things John K. Hartman has learned from serving as a
visiting professor of journalism at
University, the largest college in
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
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
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
"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
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
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
"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
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