Inaugural Lecture: Professor Hermanus (Herman) Jacobus Wasserman

19 September 2012

Deputy Vice-Chancellors, Deans, Heads of Department, colleagues, students, family and friends of Professor Wasserman, ladies and gentlemen - molweni, good evening, welcome.

The University Calendar lists all the current full professors of Rhodes University. One of the more recent entries recorded is the Professor of Journalism and Media/Cultural Studies, and Deputy Head of the School of Journalism and Media Studies, Hermanus (Herman) Jacobus Wasserman.

This evening, as is our tradition, we have the presentation of the Inaugural Lecture that follows the University conferring the status of full professor on an academic.

It is an evening on which as academic peers, colleagues, students, family, friends, and the public we celebrate the intellectual and scholarly achievements of one of our professors.

Herman Wasserman was born in Port Elizabeth in 1969, the eldest of four brothers. At school he preferred the great indoors to the sports field, and matriculated in 1987 from Durbanville High School in Cape Town where he played first trombone in the school band instead of making the first rugby team.

He studied theology, literature and journalism at the University of Stellenbosch, obtaining the degrees BA (Honours), B Journ Honours (on a Media 24 bursary), MA and D.Litt. For the latter degree he was awarded several bursaries from the National Research Foundation (NRF), Van Ewijk, Opperman, Harry Crossley foundations, and Dutch Language Union.

Part of the research for his doctorate was carried out at the Rijksuniversiteit Leiden in the Netherlands, which was really just a cheap excuse to take his new wife, Helena, on a subsidised overseas honeymoon.

After working as a news journalist and later arts writer and books editor for Die Burger newspaper in Cape Town, as well as freelancing for City Press, Litnet and several magazines including Insig and De Kat, Herman joined the Department of Journalism at the University of Stellenbosch in 2001 on a Rykie van Reenen Fellowship.

In 2002 he was appointed to the post of Associate Professor and remained in Stellenbosch until 2006. During this time he was awarded the Best Research Paper Award at the South African Communication Association Annual Conference and became the recipient of the Vice-Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Research at Stellenbosch.

In 2006 his wanderlust kicked in again, and he spent a semester at the Ernie Pyle School of Journalism at Indiana University in the US as a Fulbright Scholar.

Soon thereafter he convinced his wife Helena and then six-month-old son, Lukas, to move to the North of England, where he accepted a post at the University of Newcastle in 2007, and where his second son, Daniel was born.

While in Newcastle he embarked on a three-year research project on “Political Communication in New Democracies” funded by a British Academy grant.

He also became the recipient of the 2007 Dean’s merit award for top achievers in the Faculty of Arts and Humanities at Stellenbosch and the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Studies awarded him a grant to lead a research project on “Global Media Ethics: Fundamental Values Amid Plurality” with co-investigators in Illinois, British Columbia and New York.

From 2008 to 2012 he held a senior lectureship in journalism studies at the University of Sheffield. During this time his daughter Sophie arrived. Eventually he grew tired of braaiing in the rain, and he joined Rhodes University in August 2010. He still holds an honorary senior lectureship at Sheffield.

Herman has published widely on media in post-apartheid South Africa. Besides more than 40 peer-reviewed journal articles and several edited books, he published the monograph Tabloid Journalism in South Africa which met with critical acclaim and was awarded the Rhodes University Vice-Chancellor’s Book Award for 2011.

He has delivered several conference papers, both as a delegate and as an invited speaker, as well as given many guest lectures over the years.

Herman has also mastered other forms of writing and has published two volumes of short fiction and contributed several short stories to edited collections. In 1999 he was the runner-up in a nationwide short-fiction competition run by De Kat magazine and Human & Rousseau. He was also shortlisted for the Jan Rabie Prize for fiction and appointed as Writer in Residence for Litnet to mentor young writers.

Herman edits the academic journal Ecquid Novi: African Journalism Studies published by Routledge, and sits on the editorial boards of seven other international journals.

He served as external examiner for universities in South Africa, Ghana, Zimbabwe, India, Australia and the United Kingdom and has refereed for various local and international journals and major book publishers such as Sage, Routledge and Cambridge University Press.

He has acted as a reviewer for proposals submitted to various research programmes, including the South African Human Sciences Research Council, South Africa/Norway Research Co-operation Programme, the Swiss National Science Foundation and the Qatar National Research Fund. He is currently a specialist panel member for the South African National Research Foundation (NRF)’s Evaluation and Rating Procedure.

Herman currently holds a B2 rating by the National Research Foundation, denoting “Researchers who enjoy considerable international recognition by their peers for the high quality and impact of their recent research outputs”.

In July this year he was elected Head of the International Communication Section of the International Association for Media and Communication Research (IAMCR).

Herman has participated in several research collaborations funded by amongst others the British Academy, the UK Economic and Social Research Council and the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Studies.

He currently co-directs one of the Mellon Humanities Focus Areas at Rhodes University with Prof Anthea Garman, with the theme ‘Media and Citizenship’.

His other current collaborations include two international projects investigating media in the BRICS countries, funded respectively by the Academy of Finland and the Chiang-ChingKuo Foundation for International Scholarly Exchange in Taiwan.

Herman is a founder member of the Global Media Ethics Roundtables that have met in Stellenbosch, Dubai and Delhi, and has twice been appointed a fellow of the media ethics colloquia hosted by the US-based Journal of Mass Media Ethics.

His teaching experience at universities in South Africa and the United Kingdom has seen him supervise several students on all levels from undergraduate to PhD either as part of their coursework on a thesis basis.

In a mentorship role Herman has established a Research Forum for emerging scholars in the Rhodes School of Journalism and Media Studies to meet weekly to discuss research-related issues and questions and hold regular publication workshops.

He also hosted a publication workshop at the Highway Africa conference, targeting scholars from the UNESCO ‘Centres of Excellence’ in Journalism Education in Africa and participated and co-organised a publication workshop at the South African Communication Association conference in 2011. Prior to that, he conducted a workshop on research publication for the Forum of African Journalism Educators project of the University of the Witwatersrand, at the World Journalism Education Congress held at Rhodes in 2010.

Herman has a history of community engagement that has seen him becoming involved in volunteer journalism and consulting as well as public lectures and presentations.

He also regularly acts as a media commentator. Past contributions include BBC World Service, Radio Netherlands International, Time Magazine as well as several South African newspapers, radio and television stations.

More recently he made a presentation to the Eastern Cape Provincial Legislature’s Media Indaba on ‘The Role of Media in a Democracy’. He coordinated and co-authored the Rhodes School of Journalism and Media Studies’ submission to the Press Freedom Commission public hearings.

In 2011 he gave a public lecture at workshop on Climate Change and the Media, hosted by South African Civil Society Information Service (SACSIS) and the Friedrich Ebert Foundation. He also facilitated a meeting between the ANC and media in the Eastern Cape to discuss relations, including negotiating a programme between different roleplayers and participated in the Idasa Programme on HIV/Aids, Governance and the Journalism Curricula.

He continues to work as an occasional journalist by writing opinion pieces for media such as the Mail & Guardian, Daily Maverick and Beeld. He has also been an Associate Professor Extraordinary at the Department of Journalism, Stellenbosch since 2007 where he is currently supervising two PhDs.

In his free time, Herman still enjoys lesser-known sports such as extreme gardening, endurance parenting and long-distance cooking.

It is my great pleasure to invite Professor Herman Wasserman to address us. His lecture this evening is titled Journalism in a New Democracy: The Ethics of Listening.


Last Modified: Mon, 17 Nov 2014 15:01:22 SAST