For Sam Swan, ducking into an armored vehicle is just a part of life. In Karachi, Pakistan, a bullet-proof car took him to dinner — just one block away. In Nigeria, he was caught in the middle of a riot after his armor-plated ride was rear-ended by a city bus.
These stories wouldn’t raise an eyebrow if Swan were an international man of mystery, but he’s not. He’s the director of internationalization for the University of Tennessee College of Communication and Information and a professor in the School of Journalism and Electronic Media. Based in Knoxville, he often teaches his UT courses over the Internet while traveling to some of the world’s most unstable regions as a consultant for such agencies as Voice of America, a multimedia international broadcasting service funded by the U.S. government.
Once "in country," Swan trains journalists and radio and television station managers in the workings of a free press. His underlying goals are to help stimulate these countries’ economies and encourage progress towards democracy.
"Commercial media invites advertising and provides an economic boost through people buying things," he says. "If we can have a free press in many of these countries, we can have democracy with open elections that are freely reported."
Swan’s international media training work began in 1970 when he developed radio programs designed to educate young Sri Lankan farmers.
"I lived with 10 different families over the course of the six months," says Swan. "That really exposed me to the culture and lifestyle of these people and helped me understand the importance of what we were doing."
Since then, he has offered more than 100 workshops on broadcast management and broadcast journalism in more than 40 countries — many of them former Soviet states in Central and Eastern Europe.
It’s no small feat to get journalists to conquer what he calls the "chill effect" — their often well-grounded fear of retaliation, government or otherwise, to unbiased reporting.
"Some of these countries have had 50 years of one channel, one source of news," he says. "My job is to open their minds to another way of doing business."
Even though many countries, such as Uzbekistan, do not have freedom of the press as understood in the United States, journalists there still want to know how free media operate.
Swan also provides these journalists with a behind-the-scenes look at how American media operate in a free and competitive environment by hosting them at UT Knoxville and in Washington, D.C.
"People want to know who controls our media and how we work with multiple news sources. There’s a perception in some parts of the world that the U.S. media is state-controlled," Swan says. "You can see a light turn on when groups visit us and start to understand how we work."
Sam Swan lives in west Knoxville with his wife, Sheriann. Their daughter, Leslie, is a UT broadcasting graduate and son, Nicholas, is a writer and musician living in New York City.
Swan (upper left) wears traditional kinte cloth from his assignment in Accra, Ghana. Group shots are of a class in India (middle right) and a class of radio broadcasters in Yemen (bottom left).