I have this constant problem of finding really, really interesting work that is almost impossible to explain to someone who doesn’t work in my field. The only job where that wasn’t true was my brief stint as a 911 dispatcher in Los Angeles. Other than that, it’s been a lot of awkward pauses at dinner parties.
To do a quick recap: In 1993 I was a fellow at the World Federalist Association (now called Citizens for Global Solutions) guiding the organization’s work on IMF and World Bank reform measures. From 94-98 I served as the membership and communications coordinator for the Coalition for an International Criminal Court. From 1999-2003 I was the membership director for the World Federalist Movement. And then from 2004-2005 I held the position of communications director for the Conference of NGOs in Consultative Relations with the United Nations. I can see your eyes glazing over right now.
My current position is not much easier to explain. In a nutshell, I coordinate a program on media reform for a venerable research-based non-profit called the Social Science Research Council. My program has the unwieldy name of "Necessary Knowledge for a Democratic Public Sphere." The overall goal of the program is to facilitate new collaborations and relationships between media reform advocates and media researchers. We do this through:
- Giving Out Small Grants: providing financial incentives for advocates and researchers to work together on policy-relevant research
- Promoting Access to Industry Data: brokering better arrangements with media industry data providers like Nielsen and Arbitron so that researchers and advocates can access key data sets
- Providing "One-Stop Shopping" for Media-related Research: creating a definitive database of the most important research literature, projects, institutions and people
For those in the media reform and media research fields, these could be vital and necessary resources we will be providing for their work. But for those outside of these areas, it’s a lot to explain.
I was reminded of this while talking with a lighting technician for the TV show "Law and Order: Special Victims Unit" (one of my favorite shows.) He asked me what I do. I fumbled around for a bit and then stammered "I give money for research on the media." Which is kind of true, but it sounds like I have wads of cash in my pockets that I’m handing out at my desk all day.
It makes me somewhat envious of my girlfriend the high school math teacher. Everyone on the planet knows exactly what that is.
Then again, I shouldn’t complain. I’m pleased as punch to be doing something that is intellectually challenging, morally rewarding and financially stable. It beats being a 911 dispatcher any day.