Professor covers Libby trial

As a child, Kim Pearson, professor of journalism, had many dreams, most of which revolved around becoming a scientist.

Since Pearson was 8 years old, however, she has considered herself a writer, even when she was studying organisms under a microscope while majoring in politics at Princeton University. This natural ability recently qualified her to be one of the few bloggers present at the trial of ex-vice presidential Chief of Staff I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, who was accused of leaking the name of a CIA agent to the media.

Pearson was given the chance to cover the trial when the Media Bloggers Association, a group she is involved with, obtained the necessary press credentials.

“I got this call from Robert Cox (president of the Media Bloggers Association) and he said, ‘I have this opportunity,’ and all I thought was, ‘Cool,'” Pearson said. “It was something that had implications not only for my profession, but for my classes.”

According to Pearson, the purpose of bloggers in the courtroom was to act as “a sidebar to news coverage.” She said that beat reporters from newspapers and other news organizations had been following the case and other cases in the White House. These reporters had greater access to resources and, therefore, had the potential to produce stories of better quality.

“I think anything that gets more citizens involved with what the courts are doing is a good thing,” Pearson said, “but I don’t want people to think of what we were doing as a substitute for news coverage.”

Nevertheless, Pearson understands the potential in blogging. In the mid-1990s, she strayed from freelancing with various scientific publications to teach herself about online technology.

Then, in 2003, she created her blog “Professor Kim’s News Notes.” Designed as a place where she could collect information for possible stories, the blog soon picked up a steady readership.

“It sort of took on a life of its own,” Pearson said. “There were times when I had to walk away from it and people were getting distressed.”

Pearson also published some of her thoughts and interpretations of the Scooter Libby trial in this blog, particularly the effect it might have on the journalism community.

“The Libby trial not only tells us about the sometimes-cozy relationships between powerful journalists and their government sources,” she wrote. “The bloggers who have become so intimately involved in the press coverage may be emerging as a new media power center.”

Despite the excitement of the high profile trial, Pearson said that the most significant moment in her career as a journalist happened in the classroom.

“My most significant story would have to be 9/11,” she said. “I was supposed to teach three classes that day . what we did instead was we combined The Signal and Unbound and that became the command center.”

She and her students spent the day collecting information on traffic and travel situations, finding out what was happening on other college campuses and receiving first-hand accounts from alumni and students.

“It’s perverse, because it’s certainly one of the worst things in our lives, but it’s what a journalist was made for,” Pearson said. “There’s part of you that realizes this is the most important thing you will do . I was never more proud of my students and I was never more proud to be a journalist.”

Pearson got involved in teaching at a young age. At 10 years old, she acted as a research assistant to her father, who was going to school to become a teacher.

However, it wasn’t until she was going to graduate school for journalism at New York University that the idea to become a professor was introduced to her.

As a summer job, she worked with the Urban Journalism Workshop, which is a program “designed to introduce students of color to journalism,” according to Pearson. For two weeks, she taught her students how to write ledes, interview and put together newspapers.

“At the end of that workshop, they gave me a briefcase as a gift and they told me I should become a teacher,” Pearson said.

Now, at the College, Pearson thrives on helping her students realize their dreams.

“I wanted to come to a public school where I would meet students who are bright, and ambitious, and have dreams and have no idea how to get there,” she said.

According to her, she had similar experiences as a child, when she wanted to become a scientist and learn a musical instrument.

“There is this notion in America that you can be anything you want, but there are unwritten rules,” she said, “and if you don’t have anyone to teach you those rules, you work like a dog and get nowhere.”

For Pearson, all the hard work was well worth it.

“I’m lucky,” she said. “With the exception of learning an instrument, I’ve lived all of my dreams.”