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Roger Bill sidetracks into a PhD program

He's one of the most experienced and best traveled journalists in the province.

And now Roger Bill is back in school' full time, pursuing his PhD in the Department of Anthropology at Memorial University.

Bill is perhaps best known lately as the former editor of Current magazine, which he and his partner sold in February of this year. Current was quite a scrappy publication that raised a little hell in pretty much every issue, and Bill was a major driver of that.

His more than 30 years in journalism have taken Bill across the province and around the world. "I have covered City Hall and U.S. presidential elections," Bill wrote, in his application to the university. "I have made documentaries about the bird sanctuary on Funk Island and the civil war in the Balkans. I have been to Tiananmen Square and I have been to the Merasheen Reunion. I have interviewed monks in Laos, Muslim militants in Kashmir, and fish harvesters on the Labrador coast."

In an email exchange, Bill said he is enjoying the change of pace.

"I'm enjoying a break from journalism," he said. "It's funny how you forget what the weight of the deadline pressure feels like until you toss it off. But, my intention is to take advantage of the opportunity to study and I don't want to get distracted and chase stories, no matter how enticing they may be."

However, Bill hasn't faded completely from the local media scene. He will produce occasional TV items for CPAC (the parliamentary channel) and had a freelance piece published in a recent edition of Newfoundland Quarterly. In fact, the subject of that article the tradition of the Newfoundland screech-in' is Bill's PhD research topic.

"The Screech-In combines elements of traditional folklore and contemporary culture, raises questions about identity and the collision of indigenous values and tourism, and may be the most popular and contentious example of invented tradition in Newfoundland," Bill wrote. "Some people think the ceremony is a simple welcoming ritual and others think it is demeaning and reinforces negative Newfoundland stereotypes."

Bill said he is hoping to complete the four year program in three years.

"The first few weeks of graduate school have been interesting. I am the old geezer on campus, but the university is very welcoming to older students and my age isn't an issue with the other grad students.

"It is odd to be in a seminar where the discussion is about an historical event, like the election of the PQ in Quebec in 1976. Some of my fellow students weren't even born then, but I was a CBC producer covering it. On the other hand when the discussion moves to post-modern feminist theory I have to read back to get caught up."

Bill is not sure what comes next when he finishes the program, except that he has no plans to retire.

Hopefully he will return to the craft of journalism, which would be diminished without his contribution.

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  • Sheena
    July 27, 2010 - 14:53

    He asked me if he could write for the Muse now that he's a student. I sense he was joking, but feel obliged to hold him up to it.