Before she was appointed as Research Director for the MIT Center for Future Civic Media last December, Ellen Hume attended several brainstorming sessions and open meetings at the center. It was immediately apparent to students and researchers that she was both a seasoned journalist and a dedicated pedagogue. Hume would diligently take notes through the largely informal meetings, ask people to elaborate on interesting points or examples that they raised, and find speakers who piqued her interest after the meetings to chat further. At the same time, Hume did not shirk from asking students difficult questions, demanding clarity and thoughtfulness from them as they brainstormed ideas. She followed up with students on their project proposals, suggesting reading materials, offering encouragement, or warning that a project’s scope was too wide. Owing to this early involvement, few were surprised to learn that Hume would be spearheading the center and articulating its vision.
What might be less apparent from first impressions is that Hume is equally at ease with leadership as she is with reporting or teaching. Hume joins the center after leaving her post as the founding director of UMass Boston’s Center on Media and Society. She is also the founding editor and publisher of the New England Ethnic Newswire, an online database of the ethnic press that aims to create an ethnic media wire service to generate regional community stories that could go national. Previously, Hume was the executive director and senior fellow at Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy.
Hume’s confidence in leadership positions at esteemed media and journalism centers stems from the fact that she has over 30 years of experience as a reporter. After graduating from Harvard University with a degree in American history and literature, Hume strived to break into journalism, a male-dominated field in the late 1960s. Determined to make a difference, Hume went on to become a staff reporter for the Los Angeles Times and a political correspondent for The Wall Street Journal. As a broadcast journalist, she pushed for ‘resource journalism’, a multimedia approach to reporting. Hume founded PBS’s Democracy Project and developed news programs that encouraged citizen engagement in public affairs. She also created PBS Debate Night, a nationally televised congressional leadership debate, and Follow the Money, a series on the role of money in American politics. Hume has also appeared as a commentator on CNN’s Reliable Sources and as a panelist on PBS’s Washington Week in Review.
What students are bound to enjoy most about Hume is her ability to be self-reflective. After all, a civic-minded center can’t function without healthy internal debate and scrutiny. Luckily, Hume is long accustomed to analyzing her field and has published widely on the role of journalism in society, the profession’s ethics, failings, and evolution in the face of technological advances. “Media Missionaries”, a report for the Knight Foundation, analyzes American journalism training abroad while “Tabloids, Talk Shows, and the Future of News”, a study for the Annenberg Washington Program, went on to garner Penn State’s Bart Richards Award for Media Criticism. Hume’s ability to simultaneously accomplish and critique will ensure that the center remains focused on its goal of facilitating civic engagement and community building through technology.
More about Ms. Hume can be found on her personal site www.ellenhume.com.