Fulbright in Portugal

Steve Doig in Lisbon August-December 2010

Lisbon skyline

Archive for the ‘Fulbright activities’ Category

Muito obrigado

I have many people to thank for our wonderful four months here in Lisbon.

Thanks to the Fulbright Portugal Commission in general and in particular to directora Otília Macedo Reis; Paula Lemos, who arranged all my appearances around Lisbon and Portugal; and Carla Silva, who helped me navigate everything from opening a bank account to buying train tickets. I especially appreciate the opportunity they gave me to address the prestigious Fulbright Brainstorms Conference at the Gulbenkian Institute.

Thanks to my students at the Universidade Nova de Lisboa for their interest and enthusiasm, and for their willingness to be taught a strange subject in English by an American who is unable to speak more than a few words of Portuguese. I promise to them that one day I will successfully pronounce “freguesia”.

Thanks to Dean João Sáàgua and the faculty of Nova’s school of communication for inviting me to teach this semester and making me feel welcome. I was honored by their invitation to give the semester opening address to the new journalism students at Nova.

Thanks most especially to Prof. Antonio Granado, who turned his class over to me and who worked closely with me this semester. His enthusiasm for crowd-counting (see this and this was particularly helpful! My only regret is that we never made it to a Benfica game where I could wear my Benfica hat.

Thanks to the professors at other schools around Lisbon and Portugal who invited me to talk to their students and colleagues: Helder Bastos at the University of Porto; Anabela Sousa Lopes at Lisbon Polytechnic; Paula Cordeiro at the Technical University of Lisbon; Rita Figueiras at the Catholic University of Lisbon; Luis Bonixe at the Polytechnic Institute of Portalegre; and Joao Figueira at the University of Coimbra. I appreciated their help and hospitality, and the evident interest of their students.

Thanks to the staff of the United State Embassy of Lisbon. I very much enjoyed the hospitality of Ambassador Allan Katz and Nancy Cohn, his gracious wife. I appreciated the attention and interest I got from press officers Abby Dressell and MaryAnn McKay. And I really enjoyed my visit to the Azores, hosted by Gavin Sundwall, the American consul there. As a journalist and voter, I’m often critical of my government. But as an American citizen, I’m grateful that my tax dollars are being spent very well by members of the diplomatic corps such as these.

Thanks to the staff of Traveling to Lisbon, the apartment agency through which we rented the amazing apartment in which we lived. They handled cheerfully the occasional problems, right down to calling taxis for us when needed.

Thanks in general to the people of Portugal for their hospitality and patience with this language-crippled American. And thanks to the wonderful local residents that we got to know, like Maria down the escandinhas, or Asim and Mohammad and Ali at “Taste of Punjab” farther down the escandinhas.

Thanks to Dean Chris Callahan and my colleagues at the Cronkite School for their support of my selection to the Fulbright program. And thanks to Emeritus Prof. Phil Meyer, the godfather of precision journalism, and Knight Chair Rosental Alves, who first exposed me to Portuguese in Brazil, for their recommendations of my application to be a Fulbright scholar.

Finally, I gratefully thank my wonderful wife, Ellyn, for her willingness to go with me on adventures like this one. Her enthusiasm for everything from making best friends with people of all cultures to her happy eagerness to try whatever strange food is on the menu is what made this trip so special. Thanks to her, we will be back in Lisbon one day soon.

Busy final weeks

No thanks to a variety of recent concerns and distractions, I’ve been bad about updating this blog. Now I’m down to my final hours here, so I’ll use this post to catch up.

Since mid-November, along with my weekly class at Universidade Nova de Lisboa, I’ve had a great time lecturing about precision journalism (and dining) elsewhere around Lisbon and across Portugal:

  • At the Instituto Politécnico de Lisboa, I talked to an auditorium full of journalism and communication students. A week later, a dozen of those students came to a two-hour lab where I gave them a hand-on lesson in using Excel to analyze crime data from Portugal.
  • Then I gave a talk to a small group of faculty and students at the Lisbon campus of the Universidade Católica Portuguesa.
  • Next was my first out-of-town lecture, a talk to a room full of graduate journalism students the Instituto Politécnico de Portalegre up in the mountains about three hours northeast of Lisbon. Afterwards, Prof. Luis Bonixe took me to a great meal at a restaurant decorated with lots of old pictures of bullfights. “I hope you like meat,” he said. Luckily, I’m quite the carnivore — the appetizer was corazón de toro and it went on from there!
  • A couple of days later I took the train two hours north of Lisbon to do a talk to journalism students at the Universidade de Coimbra, one of Europe’s oldest universities. Afterwards, Prof. João Figueira and colleagues took me to a huge lunch at the Escola de Hotelaria e Turismo de Coimbra, one of a chain of 16 such schools across Portugal. The students prepared and served a fabulous meal.
  • My final big talk was in Porto, another train trip three hours to the north of Lisbon. The venue at the Universidade de Porto was the II Congresso Internacional de Ciberjornalismo focused on business models for online journalism, so I spoke about how data-driven investigative reporting can be attractive content for news sites. And once again, a marvelous meal followed when Prof. Helder Bastos took several of the speakers to a dinner of comida típica portuguesa. The next morning, I walked across the bridge to the south side of the Douro and did the tourist thing — an interesting tour of the Sandeman port wine cellars, followed by a tasting of two ports.

My last Fulbright appearance back in Lisbon was two nights ago, my final class with my wonderful Nova de Lisboa graduate students. I gave them an assignment to read various significant data journalism projects and write reports that can be shared with the class. We did a final Excel exercise, opening a New York Times list of what their critics call the “1,000 best movies” and turning it into a spreadsheet that can be sorted and summarized by year and decade. And then I finished by lecturing on “spycraft” methods for reporters to keep their confidential sources’ identities safe from prying eyes. Details on this and other exercises and lectures are here.

After class, the students invited me and Prof. Antonio Granado, my UNL colleague, to (yet another) fun dinner, held at a Chiado restaurant packed with students laughing, singing and clapping about the holiday break in classes. My ears are still ringing, but the pork, clams and potatoes dish was tasty, the conversations were good and the goodbyes were sad.

So now three duffel bags, a laundry sack, a carry-on and my laptop bag are all packed and waiting by the door. I’ll miss very much this fine apartment just below Castelo Sao Jorge overlooking downtown Lisbon, now decorated with Christmas lights. I’m happy to be heading home, but I know that Ellyn and I will be back in Lisbon one day soon. We have to — we left our hearts here.

Lesson 2

I gave my second lesson Thursday evening to my class of 22 Universidade Nova de Lisboa graduate students. They are a brave group, willing to be taught by someone who can barely utter pleasantries in their language, much less lecture.

First we talked about the homework assignment: Use the internet to find out as much about my background and personal life as they could. This exercise will lead to a lesson about the role of public records in a democracy and ultimately about getting and using such records here in Portugal. The students did a good job; along with the easy-to-find professional information, several of them tracked down my home address, former addresses, the names of various relatives, mention of my hobbies (cooking!), and more. They also confirmed some things I am not: A registered sex offender, a contributor of money to politicians, a former NFL linebacker, an artist, a band leader, etc. They also learned not to trust everything they find about someone: Several people-finder databases that are otherwise accurate have me living some years ago in a Florida city where in fact I never lived.

The next topic was, for journalism students and journalists in general, the dreaded M-word: Math. I told them that the bad news is that journalists absolutely must be able to do math. (But the good news is that it’s pretty much grade-school math!) I did a Powerpoint lecture on calculating such newsroom math terrors as percentage change, crime rates and the cost-of-living index. I also handed out my “Newsroom Math Cheat Sheet”, one page with just about all the math a reporter needs to know.

In the second half of the class, I introduced the students to using the Excel spreadsheet program for computer-assisted reporting problems. I gave a quick PowerPoint overview of Excel’s tools for sorting, filtering, transforming and summarizing data.

The students then downloaded a spreadsheet I had prepared of the number of crimes reported in 278 Portuguese cities during 2009. (I got the raw data from the excellent Instituto Nacional de Estatística site.) I showed the class how to sort by the number of crimes, how to filter it to show only selected records, how to write a formula to total the crimes in each city, and so on. (I’m saving until next class a demonstration of how to use pivot tables to summarize data by categories.)

When class ended, three students told me they were having a problem making my addition formula work. I belatedly realized that it was because they were using the Portuguese version of Excel and I was demonstrating using the English version. D’oh! Instead of =SUM, the function here is =SOMA. (=AVERAGE is =MÉDIA, =MEDIAN is =MED, etc.) So the next day I ordered the Portuguese Language Pack for Microsoft Office, and I also found a table of English<->Portuguese translations for Excel functions. Perhaps next week I’ll confuse my students less!

(The fact of learning about this problem AFTER the lesson was over prompted me to send an email note to my students telling them they are being too polite in class. I told them they need to speak up when a problem occurs or if they don’t understand something I am saying or demonstrating. Some teachers like students who sit quietly in class. Not me — I prefer lots of feedback.)

Finally, I also sent out an email with a two-part homework assignment. The first part is a 12-question newsroom math quiz. The second part is a 7-question Excel exercise using the crime data. Both parts are to be answered online. (If you are interested, you can see the questions here as a Word document.) I also created for the students a tipsheet for answering the Excel questions. I look forward to seeing how well they do.

Working hard…

My life here as a Fulbright professor was pretty easy for the first month — some time spent preparing for upcoming talks and classes, but plenty of opportunity to enjoy the sights, food, wines and people of Lisbon. But the real work has now begun, and this past week was very busy for me.

It started on Tuesday with the first of two days of briefings and orientation for the seven American students who are here this year to do graduate research or work as English teaching assistants at various universities across Portugal. The students are a wonderful group, bright and engaging. The program was led by Otilia Macedo Reis, executive director of the Fulbright Portugal Commission, program coordinator Paula Lemos and program assistant Carla Silva.

Carla, Otilia, me, and Paula

They introduced the students to the adventures of living and working in Portugal, right down to the intricacies of getting bank accounts and visa extensions.

A highlight that night was dinner at the Escola de Hotelaria e Turismo de Lisboa. Housed in a newly renovated building, the school is a marvel of classroom labs for every culinary and hospitality skill from cooking to bartending. It is one of 16 such government-funded schools around Portugal, a country that knows an important part of its economy is based on tourism. The dinner, cooked and served by students, was fabulous, with a crab appetizer, a fish course, excellent wine and a choice of great desserts. We even got a demonstration of opening a bottle of vintage 1995 port using a red-hot clamp around the neck, followed by a splash of ice water to crack the neck off without crumbling the cork. And the port was delicious!

The next day was a briefing for the Fulbrighters at the U.S. Embassy in Lisbon. To my surprise, I knew the assistant press officer, Maryann McKay, who led the session. She had been tasked with escorting me around Brazil about three years ago when I was on a visit there sponsored by the State Department. Maryann and the other embassy officers who talked with us were professional and genial, a smart and capable group. I was proud of this outpost of my country.

A real treat for me was a private chat with Ambassador Allan Katz. Our careers overlapped in Tallahassee, Florida, in the early 1980s, when he worked for the state insurance commissioner and I covered state government for the Miami Herald. We swapped “where are they now” stories about some of the reporters and politicians we both knew.

After a goodbye lunch with the Fulbright kids who were getting ready to scatter across Portugal, it was showtime for me. I walked over to the Universidade Nova de Lisboa, where I was the guest speaker at the welcoming session for new students in the communications school. The UNL communications faculty is rightfully proud that their students have higher college preparation test scores than those of almost any other field of study. Before a gathering of about 80 students, I spoke for 30 minutes about journalism as an important and exciting career that is facing many challenges, and how they should prepare for those challenges. I was pleased by their attention, and spent another half hour afterward talking with those who had questions.

My next big Fulbright moment came Thursday evening — my first class with the UNL journalism graduate students. The 24-seat computer lab was packed.

My class of graduate students

After an introduction by UNL Prof. Nelson Traquino, I spent the class session giving the students a broad overview of precision journalism and what I planned to teach them this semester. (Those who are interested can download my PowerPoint slides.) There was some anxiety among the students about the fact that I necessarily would be teaching in English; they were concerned that they might be graded on how well they wrote in English. I assured them that no part of their grades from me would depend on them writing proper English. After all, the most complicated thought I can express in Portuguese is “Onde fica o casa de banho?

As we finished up, I gave them some assignments:

  • Send me an email answering some basic questions about themselves and their journalism interests.
  • Use internet sources to dig up as much background information about me as they can find. I told them to dig in online public records for my address, my full name, my birthdate, my home value, etc. Do I have any lawsuits against me? Any political contributions? Am I on the sex offender lists? (Hint: NO!)
  • As we prepare to talk about getting public records in Portugal, download and read the “Legal Leaks Toolkit” for European journalists. And for a good history of journalism education in Portugal, read this academic article by Professors Manuel Pinto and Helena Sousa of the Universidade do Minho.

I look forward to learning more about them, and the next class. It should be fun!

Fulbright work

Ellyn and I have greatly enjoyed the free time of our first month here in Portugal, exploring the different neighborhoods of Lisbon, sampling the food and wines, visiting the standard tourist sites, and learning to use the Metro, the buses and the regional trains. But my professional life here is about to get busy.

The first of my weekly four-hour sessions for master’s students at the Universidade Nova de Lisboa is next week. I have been working steadily on preparing for this class by gathering Portuguese and European data, and attending a briefing by the census experts at the Instituto Nacional de Estatística.

And on Sept. 29 I will give a talk on “The New Challenges of Journalism” as part of the welcoming orientation for first-year communications students at UNL’s School of Social Sciences and Humanities.

In addition, the excellent staff of the Fulbright Portugal Commission is arranging opportunities for me to talk with students at other universities in mainland Portugal and the Azores, and to do workshops in computer-assisted reporting with professional journalists in Lisbon and elsewhere. Some of these events will be open to the public, and I welcome anyone who is interested to attend and ask questions.

I’ve added to this blog a schedule of my Fulbright activities, which I will update as new items are added and details about time and location are decided.


Aside from enjoying Lisbon, I’m also planning for my Fulbright work here. For one, I’ve arranged a briefing soon from the Instituto Nacional de Estatistica, the national statistics office of Portugal. The INE is gearing up to conduct the country’s latest decennial census starting early next year. I’m a big believer that reporters should make good use of census data as a way of exploring stories about growth and demographic change. Among other topics, I intend to teach my UNL students how to find stories in the INE’s data-rich website. The INE press office was gracious enough to agree to help me understand how to navigate to the good stuff.

Fulbright Ignite

While my Cronkite School faculty colleagues gather Monday for a pre-semester retreat, I’ll be on a plane from Phoenix to Philadelphia, and then from there to Lisbon!

One thing I’ll miss at the retreat is a so-called Ignite session, where each participant gives a talk using 20 slides, with each slide on the screen for just 15 seconds. I think it’s a great concept. With only 300 seconds to make your point, you are forced to be succinct and direct.

I won’t be there to hear the presentations, but I decided I wanted to participate, at least virtually. So I threw together an Ignite talk on “How to get a Fulbright!” in hopes that some of my colleagues will be intrigued enough to apply for a fellowship themselves someday. I built my 20 slides using Powerpoint, then set up the slide show timings so each slide got about 15 seconds. Finally, I recorded the slideshow and my voiceover comments using ScreenFlow screen capture software, and then trimmed out a few seconds of dead air here and there.

The result is this little movie…

My “Fulbright Ignite” talk to Cronkite faculty

Talk, talk, talk…

I don’t give speeches — I normally just talk (and wave my hands too much while I’m doing it, according to Ellyn.) But my Portugal calendar is starting to be peppered with invitations to give formal presentations to various audiences. I’m always a bit nervous about such things, but I’m honored to do it.

First, I have been asked to welcome the new class of journalism students at the Universidade Nova de Lisboa in late September. I’m glad to do that because I like to communicate my own enthusiasm for the importance of this career to the young people who will lead the way into this new age of multimedia news.

My next confirmed talk will be a more formal occasion. The Comissão Fulbright Portugal will be holding its “Fulbright Brainstorms 2010” conference on October 22-23 at the  Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon. The theme of this year’s conference is “Meeting Global Challenges Through Education and Citizenship”, and several distinguished speakers have been invited to contribute. Read the announcement here.

My first thought was “What do I know about meeting global challenges? My challenges tend to be very local!” But on reflection, it’s a fine topic for a reporter to think and talk about. I’m an ardent believer that independent watchdog journalism is essential to educating people with the information they need to be effective citizens, not only of their country but also of the world. So I will be teaching my students this fall about tools and techniques they can use to analyze public records and examine public problems. At the Brainstorms conference, I plan to make a strong case for the role of serious journalism in helping ensure that government, business and social institutions operate to the benefit of the citizens they serve.

Once I arrive (in less than two weeks!!) I expect there will be more invitations to talk, in addition to my weekly class with my students. UNL Prof. Antonio Granado and the staff at the Comissão Fulbright Portugal are alerting other universities and newsrooms that I’m eager to visit and talk, talk, talk…

Prepping for class

It’s been a very busy two months since I last posted on this blog. First, I went to Perugia, Italy, in late April to talk about precision journalism at the International Festival of Journalism there. The trip was a great reminder of the pleasures of travel to other countries, although there was considerable anxiety about our itinerary because of the volcano in Iceland that was disrupting air travel over much of Europe.

After we returned, there was the usual end-of-semester crunch of projects and grading to be done. As soon as the semester was over, I got involved as a consultant to an investigative project being done out of the Cronkite School by our News21 students from around the country; it’s fun for me to be doing actual journalism on occasion. Then last week I talked about newsroom math and the coming U.S. decennial census data at the annual Investigative Reporters & Editors conference in Las Vegas. Then Ellyn and I enjoyed a fun visit from our son and daughter and their families, which now include five grandchildren.

But it’s quiet around here now, which means I can turn again to preparing for my classes this fall at the Universidade Nova de Lisboa. Prof. Antonio Granado, whose class I will be working with, has given me the details of how the class will operate. We have some ambitious plans for putting the students to work on projects that we hope will turn into stories that can be published.

I have begun laying out a schedule of content for the class, which will cover negotiating for public records, analysis of data, statistical tools, social science methods such as polling, and lots of work with computer programs such as Excel, Access, SPSS and ArcMap. I intend to keep them them very busy.

A particular challenge for me (other than my inability to speak Portuguese) is finding interesting data for the students to use as they learn to use the software. Naturally, I want them to use data about Portugal and Europe; there’s not much point in teaching students in Portugal how to work with American campaign finance data or crime reports. Preparing for computer-assisted reporting talks in other countries is always a reminder to me of how easy we American journalists have it compared to international reporters when it comes to getting government data. Our public records laws give us access to government information that simply can’t be obtained in many other places.

Even so, it’s encouraging to see that more and more international data is going online these days. When I was in Italy, I did an Excel demonstration that used reported crime data from more than a hundred Italian cities. Many of the reporters there were unaware that they could get at such data, and were amazed when I told them I found it by digging around on the net from my computer here in Arizona.

As I prep for Portugal, I have begun to find useful datasets at sites like Pordata, the Instituto Nacional de Estatística and the Instituto de Meteorologia. I’m also scouring around for mapping files that can be used to show how important the mapping of data patterns can be to finding and telling stories. It’s like a treasure hunt, with data instead of gold nuggets.

More preparation

I’m still gathering all the documentation needed for a long-term visa for Portugal. I’ve requested a letter from my local police department stating my lack of a criminal record. I also had a set of fingerprints taken to send to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which will check my record across the country. Happily, I’ve led quite a boring good-citizen life; the only other time I was fingerprinted was when I enlisted in the U.S. Army 39 years ago. I also just had my full medical exam, including tests for everything from tuberculosis to heart disease, and my doctor has certified my good health. I’ll be sending off the visa documents to the Consulate of Portugal in San Francisco this week. The medical report already is on its way to the Fulbright doctors who will decide if I’m healthy enough for the rigors of Lisbon!

And thanks to the folks at Fulbright Portugal, who put a nice notice about my selection on their newly redesigned website. It even includes a link back to this blog!

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