If you haven’t seen The Chronicle of Higher Education’s recent story on UNL’s International Arts Symposium, take a look at it here. It’s great coverage that highlights, at some length, an important pillar of the university’s mission — community engagement.
This national placement came about as a result of what I call the London, Paris, Rome, Lincoln pitch. It plays on reporters’ natural attraction to stories that are counterintuitive or surprising. In this case, it was impressive and surprising to the Chronicle writer that such big-time, world-class artists were coming to Lincoln, Neb., of all places, to conduct workshops, lectures and in-services. Here’s the lede to the story (which I admittedly quite enjoyed) :
“Be sure to come to the University of Nebraska if you want to see the Huskers facing off against some powerhouse Division 1-A pigskin foe in Lincoln’s Memorial Stadium. Be sure to get to Lincoln, too, for the latest in avant-garde dance and lectures by body-modifying French performance artists.
That’s classic London, Paris, Rome, Lincoln right there, folks. But I’ll admit: Of all the tricks of the trade to place a UNL story at the national level, this is the one about which I have the most divided feelings.
On one hand, it’s an enticing hook — who expects to see a famous French performance artist in a small midwestern city in the middle of the Great Plains? I’ve used this approach in the past to attract national attention to our space law program (hey, who expects to see astro and telecommunications experts in Nebraska?) and the fact that Chinese students have been flocking to UNL in increasing numbers in recent years (hey, who expects to see so many talented foreign students in Nebraska?).
But on the other hand, the pitch obliquely concedes that the state of Nebraska is what the coastal cynics say it is — a barren, culture-free, depopulated wasteland that doesn’t have anything of note to offer, except maybe some decent intercollegiate football and high fructose corn syrup. Those of us who live here, and who work to promote the state’s flagship university, know that nothing could be further from the truth, and so it can feel a bit like selling out when the occasion presents itself to frame a pitch in such a manner.
Essentially, when offering up the London, Paris, Rome, Lincoln pitch, you’re banking on the counterintuitive nature of your story being simply an entry point and nothing more, and then putting your trust in the capable hands of the reporter to take an accurate tone with his or her coverage, avoid condescending language and allow the bright spots about your school (those things you’ve known for years that make your school unique, but will be news to the rest of the country) to shine through.
Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Opinions may vary on this latest example from The Chronicle, depending on one’s point of view. Ultimately, I feel that any coverage is better than no coverage, and so I tend to count these as wins. Fortunately, at the national level, most reporters are skilled and professional enough that they do their homework and research before writing, so they can avoid such cliche condescension and write with a precision that protects against perpetuating any stereotypes that might damage our university’s reputation. So in most national cases, I’d like to think, London, Paris, Rome, Lincoln works out OK.