Dr. Eleanor M. Novek
Ph.D. in Communication, Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania
M.A. in Communication, Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania
M.A. in English, Georgia State University
My current research is focused on the communication strategies and practices of incarcerated individuals; higher education in prison and the pedagogies that sustain it; racial justice issues involving men and women in prison; prison journalism; and methods of teaching nonviolence. My other work has involved community empowerment; racial discrimination; social justice and feminist methodologies; and Quaker spirituality.
Novek, E. (2019). Making meaning: Reflections on the act of teaching in prison. The Review of Communication, special issue on prison education, 19(1), 55-68.
Novek, E. (2017). Jail pedagogies: Teaching and trust in a maximum-security men’s prison. Dialogues in Social Justice, 2(2), 31-51.
Novek, E.; & Wood, J.K., Eds. (2013). Working
for Justice, A Handbook of Prison Education and Activism. Champaign, IL:
University of Illinois Press.
Listen to Professor Novek’s episode of the Department of Communication’s Professor Profiles Podcast:
We continue our feature on the faculty here of the department of communication at Monmouth university. Yet again, I’m Matt Harmon, my colleague, Nick Massine. And I trying to give you a little insight to those that teach within this fantastic building the plan G or center joining me today is long-time faculty member, Eleanor Novick, who is good enough to give us some time here. And it was funny as you were just walking in, you said, I don’t really know a whole lot about voice and diction. I don’t know a whole lot about where I’m supposed to and how we’re supposed to talk into a microphone because a lot of your background centers around the world of journalism, the print world, and I think we’ll start right there. We’ll, we’ll focus on when I say the print world of journalism that is so different now in 2019 than when it was when you were number one, working in it and started teaching it.
Absolutely. some of the things that have changed are nowadays journalists are expected to provide not only written word, but also sound also visual. And one person is expected to be competent and all those things very different from when I was a reporter myself, but being, knowing about news, knowing what’s important and what people need to know that hasn’t changed. That’s still a really important component. And boy, we need journalism more than ever with what’s going on nowadays. People don’t know what to trust, don’t know what to believe in. And so a credible competent journalist is really a valuable thing.
So you said two things in there that I want to follow up on. You said we need journalism more so now than ever, but you also added a competent journalist as well because of the world that exists today. There are a lot of people who would say they are journalists, but I’m not sure that they have the competent part that goes along with it.
Right? Well, everybody with a cell phone can be a journalist and frequently what you have is people capturing events, but not doing the analysis part or not having the background to understand how something fits in with the way things work. So being a competent journalist and having some experience in having some awareness of, for example, how society works, how people in different organizations might communicate with each other at different parts of society might communicate with each other. And that’s something that journalists acquire over time. It’s not something that a dude with a cell phone necessarily has.
You know, we, we did one of these and, and just the order of how we’re doing. I’ve already spoken with your journalism colleague, John Morano, who teaches some of the same classes that you do intro to journalism news, writing, editorial, writing those kinds of core journalism classes. What would you say maybe are a couple of things that today’s student has to focus on maybe then 15, 20 years ago, even didn’t have to focus on? Is it, is it knowing a little bit more about how to do the video, how to be with social media? I mean, those are all kind of newer type companies.
It’s funny. You’re right in that those are expected now of journalists, but also those are things that today’s students have grown up with. Everybody knows how to shoot video on their phone. Everybody knows social media. Ironically, the thing that is a challenge for today’s journalists is talking to each other, talking to people face to face, being able to interview somebody, knowing when to ask questions when to be quiet and knowing how to make sense out of what they’re being told. So it’s ironic to me that some of the real fundamentals of journalism are actually harder for folks today who would rather text, who would rather email than have a conversation. It was funny the other day in our career event on one of the professionals said, call people, I know, pick up the phone and call them. Isn’t that weird, but young people aren’t really all that comfortable with talking face to face.
Was that a barrier I think would maybe be the good way to say it. How was that a barrier for you as a professor of journalism to get people to maybe think in terms of, yes, you, you would consider in today’s day and age old fashioned to pick up and call someone rather than text or email or have a face-to-face meeting, but it’s still really important. And it’s still something that you have to learn how to do.
You’re saying, how has that how do I overcome that barrier?
How do you overcome that barrier with students? Because I’m sure a lot of students look at you and say, ah, I don’t, I I’ll just email them. I’ll just text them. I don’t even have to talk to them
Face to face. They do. And then they tell me three days later on, they never got back to me in email. Oh, I didn’t, didn’t get to talk to this person because he never responded. Yes. If you show up, I say it jokingly, but tackle him at the knees, you know, show up where they are and be persistent. Talk to them. I think I understand that because I’ve been a shy person most of my life. So I understand being reluctant to talk to people, but I also love to talk to people. I love to meet strangers and find out what makes them tick and find out their story. I really believe that everybody has a story to tell. And by looking at them, you can tell what that is. You had to really sit and talk to them for awhile. So I really emphasize that in classes. And I really talk about the beauty and also try to assign students to have those kinds of experiences themselves, where they’re going to see the beauty of learning about somebody’s story.
You started teaching here at Monmouth in 1996, you were teaching a couple of years before that. And one of the state universities in New York, 1994, I want to go back prior to that and dig into what was it like to be a reporter during the course of the eighties? I see a couple of things in here. You covered public affairs, politics, labor business type issues in Norfolk, Virginia. And you also worked in one of the biggest media markets in the world, still in the world today, Atlanta, Georgia.
What was your thing? Fun. Oh yeah. Yeah. One of the great things about it was something new every day, even covering a beat and I covered local government, local politics even that was different every single day. Sometimes it was campaigning and it was elections. I’ll never forget watching the first time that I saw a us Senator for my district. And he was about to do a shoot on the evening news and watching him bow his head while a reporter powdered his bald head with makeup so that he wouldn’t be shiny on the news. And I thought, wow, the, even the mighty bow, the knee to television, because that was so important to them. But it was lovely in being able to talk to people again, find out their stories. What was not lovely was recognizing that no matter how much corruption you owe uncovered, no matter how much wrongdoing you uncovered, it was still going to go on that, that the people didn’t really pay attention to the news coverage.
Oh, from and something that you said a couple of minutes ago still has stuck in my head. How does shy Eleanor Novick, who went to Georgia state graduated get involved in really the, I’ll say the high paced world of journalism, where you do have to, as you said, tackle people at the knees, be in their face work hard to get the story. It almost kind of goes anti to how you describe yourself with your personality.
Well, except that I’m also persistent and meticulous I’m detail oriented. And so what people responded to was they would read my work and they would recognize that I was fair, recognized that I covered all the bases. Talk to a lot of people. I never came up with a story that was anonymous sources. So I think people had a sense of I’ve seen her before. I’ve talked to her before she’ll do right by the story. And I had a lot of credibility with my with my sources.
I can speak without question to the meticulous part, having sat in some of your grad classes without question meticulous is a perfect way to describe how you do and go about your business. Let’s change gears a little bit. I know for you, you have, and it, and it is crazy. It kind of, again, I would think goes against how you describe yourself from a personality standpoint. You spend a lot of your time and research and focus on working with people in prisons, which is fascinating in one way and yet crazy in another
People who teach in prisons sometimes make a bad joke and say, well, it’s a captive audience. But it’s really true that people who are incarcerated are so eager for knowledge, so eager for learning that they are a great population to teach. A lot of people who are locked up dropped out of high school, or even earlier than that dropped out in middle school. A lot of them came from broken families. And so they don’t have any feeling about what college might be like or even really what high school is like when you’re really present and, and enjoying it. And they are now in their adulthood and in very difficult circumstances and they are just really enthusiastic. So it’s from that standpoint, it’s a population that’s really enjoyable to teach. I also feel like our prisons are incredibly unjust and incredibly inhumane. And I feel like if there’s anything I can do to contribute to people’s understanding of that and to contribute to mass incarceration reform that I want to do that as well.
When you say that you go into prisons and teach my first question would be, what do you teach? You’re not going in and teaching intro to journalism. Like you would hear it at Monmouth. What are you going in? And teaching that population,
I actually started out in my first volunteer teaching in prison was a journalism program. And we put out a publication in the, it was at the women’s prison in New Jersey Edna man. And we put out a news publication there. But it doesn’t really work too well. All the things that journalists need to do, they need to be able to talk to people. They need to be able to look into things. Prison inmates can’t really do that. So w the class that I do now is really it’s called a current events writing class, and they’re usually and it’s men, it’s at New Jersey state prison. And it’s usually looking into what’s going on in current events and we’ll do a lot of discussion about it, and then writing about it as well. But I should point out something which is we did in 2017 and we will be doing in 2020 combining a class of Monmouth students with incarcerated students. And that’s pretty fascinating.
You have a class of mamma students that would be sitting next to, or involved with those that are in prison. Yes. Where does the class, where does that class take place at the prison at the prison? So the mama’s students have to get to the,
Yup. We ride a van, we leave right in front of the Hawk and we traveled to the prison, sit in the classroom there for about an hour and a half together. And then part
First time that you walked into a prison to begin this process of being now, so involved with those that are incarcerated, were you intimidated?
People ask that, and it’s funny. Yes, but not by the prisoners. I was intimidated by the officers. Yeah. who were large and scary and had helmets and tattoos and stuff, but prisoners have generally been respectful, like I said, eager to learn really appreciate when people volunteer their time. So I have not had difficulty or felt by prisoners, Dr.
Eleanor Novick joining us here and our communication faculty profiles within the department of communication, a few more minutes, creating a culture of peace, a class that you have developed here. And I would have to think a class that spawned from the work that you have in place.
Yes. there’s another program I’m involved in, in prisons called the alternatives to violence project. Several other faculty here are also involved with that, and that is a weekend long program in prisons. That’s about reducing violence, teaching people how to interact in a non-violent way when they’re in the midst of a conflict. That is something that I think everybody has the capacity to do. We expect prisons to be violent. So it started in a prison that, that program, but in reality you could look at ways that our classrooms at Monmouth are violent or that our relationships with our friends and roommates and family members can be violent, maybe not physically, but emotionally. So the class came out of the alternatives to violence project. How can I help students learn how to tap into their peaceful nature and put aside the emotional violence that they might wreak on their roommate or their friends, or their significant other,
How does that process start? Because someone who has three kids ages from 10 to 21, the world is a violent place. What they see, what they watch in the media, what they could read on the internet, YouTube, social media, how do you, how do you combat that in your class and give them maybe the students give them skills that maybe they’re unaware of
Believe it or not, there’s some connection with journalism in that. They need to learn to recognize the stories that other people have. They need to recognize the value that other people have so that when they’re in a conflict with someone they’re not immediately afraid, or they’re not immediately on the attack. And that kind of interaction comes from listening to people, it comes from talking one-on-one. So we do a lot of one-on-one and small group conversation in a class like that. We play games. So we have fun in a class like that. And over time, what people are learning is I don’t have to, when I encounter you, and we have things that we disagree about, I don’t have to tighten up. I don’t have to get aggressive. I don’t have to be on the offensive. I can chill and hear what you have to say. And when you’re ready, you can hear what I have to say. And maybe there’s another way that we can come up with, it’s not my way or your way, but a third way that we can solve this problem. And if not, at least we can still keep talking to each other kind of go back
Full circle. As we, as we wrap this interview up, someone says to you, I want to be a journalist. What’s your advice to them in today’s day and age?
Oh my God. I’m so glad you do, because we need you
Well, because a lot of people would almost go the opposite. Newspapers are closing these opportunities. Aren’t here anymore. For someone who wants to still be involved in the field, there are still a lot of opportunities out there. Yeah.
Yes, yes. Probably going to be digital format, probably not print format. There’s also public interest journalism. So sites like ProPublica, which does investigative reporting sometimes with traditional media and sometimes by themselves lots of people have a hybrid of what I would call social media plus news, where they’re doing reporting, but they’re also doing promoting. So it’s kind of a public relations, journalism mix and absolutely there’s interest in having young people come into these areas. As in traditional journalism back when I was involved in it, pay is not great to start out with people have to pay their dues in the field before they can earn a lot the on the upside, they can also be working for themselves and branding themselves and promoting themselves, not through an organization, but independently,
You killed it. By the way, in this almost now 17 minute interview for someone who wasn’t overly excited to come into the radio studio and have to voice what they like to talk about. This was a, this was fantastic. Appreciate you coming by and giving us a couple
Of minutes. Really appreciate it.
That is Dr. Eleanor Novak who teaches a wide variety of classes here in the department. For more information on what we do here in the plans. You’re building, visit firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks to Nick Massino for the technical assistance on this side, I’m Matt Harmon. We’ll continue along with these faculty profiles of the department of communication.
The Monmouth University Academic Enrichment Program (with Dr. Johanna Foster), an academic partnership between Monmouth University and the New Jersey Department of Corrections. The program brings Monmouth students together with prison inmates for semester-long investigations of important issues related to mass incarceration, providing transformative experiences that engage students in hands-on learning . In 2017 the class presented a campus presentation of its research, “Reversing the flow: Making our prisons more like schools and our schools less like prisons.” The effort is ongoing in 2019-2020.
Editorial Board Member, Atlantic Journal of Communication
Editorial Board Member, Journal of Prison Education and Reentry
Awards and Honors
Literacy Volunteer of the Year Award, New Jersey Department of Corrections, 2015
Nomination, Distinguished Teaching Award, Monmouth University, 2015
Spiritual Communication Division, National Communication Association, third top paper award, 2015
Judith H. Stanley Traveling Fellowship for Teaching in the Humanities, 2011, 2007
George Gerbner Lecture,
Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania, 2005
Board of Directors, Redeem-Her Transitional Program for Women
State coordinator, Alternatives to Violence Project -NJ, 2009-present
As coordinator, I organize and lead nonviolence workshops in prisons, churches, and community centers; recruit, train and maintain a growing organization of volunteer facilitators; compile workshop participation reports for the national organization; and serve as liaison to correctional facilities and community groups.
Nonviolence Training Affiliate, Level I Certification, Kingian Nonviolence Conflict Reconciliation, University of Rhode Island Institute for Kingian Nonviolence
Frequently Taught Classes
- CIVIC Journalism (CO 317)
- Communication Ethics (CO 311)
- Communication Theory (CO 501)
- Creating a Culture of Peace (CO 303)
- Editorial Writing (CO 342)
- Gender, Race, and Media (CO 383)
- Introduction to Journalism (CO 211)
- Newswriting (CO 215)
- Online Journalism (CO 333)
- Seminar in Communication (CO 491)
- Special Problems (CO 590)
Recently Taught Classes
- CO-692-NO3SH - Communication Thesis
- CO-303-01 - Creating a Culture of Peace
- CO-215-01 - Newswriting
- CO-598-50 - Special Topics in Communication
- CO-398-50 - Special Topics in Communication and Theatre (300 Level)
- SO-398-50 - Special Topics in Sociology (300 Level)
- CO-691-NO3SH - Communication Thesis Proposal
- CO-342-01 - Editorial Writing
- CO-211-02 - Introduction to Journalism
- SO-368-50 - Applied Ethics in American Prisons
- CO-303-01 - Creating a Culture of Peace
- CO-215-01 - Newswriting
- CO-598-50 - Special Topics in Communication