Joseph Vavrus: In His Own Words

All of the papers and panels at this year’s ISOJ will be completely and unequivocally great, but there’s a lot more that goes into planning the event behind the scenes. Joseph Vavrus is a crucial member of that planning team. A graduate research assistant with the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas, he assisted with attendee booking last year, and this year is in charge of speaker bios for the symposium program, registration details and conference-related correspondence, among other things.And he’s just as passionate about journalism as the people presenting. He blogs, analyzes web reports and assists with technical writing for the Knight Center website. In other words, he does a lot. But let’s let Joseph have his say, in his own words.


I’m a journalist by accident. My training is in area studies, languages, and economics, but I have always been a voracious consumer of new and old media. I was hired to help the Knight Center run its trilingual social media campaign and coordinate last year’s symposium. Before I knew it, however, I was suddenly following media trends, studying the history of journalism in Latin America, and monitoring and reporting on this incredibly eventful time for the industry.

The symposium is great. The lineup says it better than I ever could. We have CEOs, tech heads, industry leaders, and academics from all over the country and the world talking about the things that matter for the future of journalism.

The Knight Center does great work. Our director Rosental Alves does magic with the resources we get from the Knight Foundation. We have our trilingual blog and website, our distance learning training program for Latin American and Caribbean journalists, and we organize conferences, workshops, and lectures.

Non-profit journalism is very important. The independence of the press faces challenges from so many sides – especially outside of the OECD – including: over-reliance on a single source of advertising (government or corporate), concentration of media ownership, violence/threats from those in power (government, business, organized crime) – not to mention legal hurdles from archaic laws in some countries designed to protect the powerful. Beyond that, the ability of a media outlet to actively engage in investigative journalism requires specific training and resources for its staff. Foundation money/grants/donations/crowd-funding can both help shelter an outlet from reliance on those it should be watching,and force that outlet to prioritize serious investigation over “easier” (re: cheaper and less controversial OMG Tiger Woods!) coverage.

The most pressing issue in the industry that should be discussed at the symposium: best practices for taking all the new tools and technologies to compliment one of the oldest roles of journalism: interpreting the complexities of our world (culture/politics/economics/science/etc.) and watchdogging the powerful to promote more informed citizens and better democracy. Let’s talk about the future of the industry about the best ways to save it, but let’s not forget why we’re doing it!

Mixing academics and professionals at one event is very important. Journalism is one of those disciplines that has both a vibrant research profession and a vibrant industry – yet there aren’t nearly enough linkages between the two. The symposium is moving that in the right direction.

Crowd-funded journalism can help any type of media organization – nonprofit, public, private – practice journalism sustainably and responsively to their audience. However, I have an innate fear in the ability to game the system (a caveat to my defense of non-profit journalism above) if coverage choices become overly responsive to a the crowd. We say “crowd” thinking many people, but $1 million in crowd-funding =/= a $1 million person crowd.

My current passions are economic theory and bass music.

What I hope to take away from the symposium: ways to help the Knight Center stay on top of journalism trends and technologies in its reporting and training practices.

The most pressing question I want answered: what feasible (in a political economy sense) government economic policies in the developing world (or in the US for that matter) reduce poverty and create a wealth of good-paying jobs to absorb the underpaid and underemployed without destroying the environment or (overly) restricting the dynamism of market-based innovation and growth?

You should register for the symposium before we reach capacity – we’re very close.


Follow Joseph on Twitter.