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Innerviews: Worldly Londoner hangs his hat in Charleston

F. BRIAN FERGUSON | Gazette-Mail
In the comfort of his East End home, David Mould, a British-born journalist and longtime Ohio University teacher, reaches out to the far corners of the world as an international consultant. The quilt was stitched by his wife to commemorate her mother’s 80th birthday.
F. BRIAN FERGUSON | Gazette-Mail
“You can never like your job all the time, but to me, work is really important and I have to love what I’m doing most of the time.”
F. BRIAN FERGUSON | Gazette-Mail
F. BRIAN FERGUSON | Gazette-Mail
In 1972, British journalist David Mould was photographed during an interview with movie star Cary Grant.
This picture captures young reporter David Mould during a research visit to the Library of Congress in 1982.
Five-year-old David Mould enjoys playing with a water hose on a warm day in Ewell in Surrey, a suburb of London.
During a trip to Almaty, Kazakhstan, David Mould posed for a picture with a statue of a medieval warrior.
In 2001, David Mould and his wife, Stephanie Hysmith, visited an elephant park in north Thailand and enjoyed an elephant ride with the help of a park guide.
As a 9-year-old, David Mould was a boarding student at Caterham School.
In 1977, as a TV reporter in Scarborough, North Yorkshire, David Mould was researching a documentary on the German bombardment of the town in December 1914.

Note the clipped British accent. Not from Southern West Virginia, that’s for sure.

He talks breezily about Central Asia and Madagascar and other far off places he jets to in his work. Not your everyday nine-to-fiver by any means.

No, David Mould isn’t the typical guy-next-door. But the guy-next-door couldn’t be happier with the place he chooses as home. Familiar with the city through visits over the years, the 65-year-old London journalist picked Charleston as the setting to write the remaining chapters of his eventful, global life.

The computer on the third floor of his East End home brings the world to his doorstep. From his desk up there, he manages a team and oversees training and research projects for UNICEF, among other things. Periodically, he travels to, say, India or South Africa to check on programs first-hand.

On a whim, with no training whatsoever, he decided on a career in journalism. He learned by doing, earned respect along the way and moved eventually into television news.

He first visited the United States on an internship in 1976. Impressed with the country’s vibrancy, he gave up a lucrative British TV job to eke it out as a graduate student in Kansas. Next, he accepted a low-level teaching position at Ohio University. He stayed there 30 years with frequent breaks for international teaching assignments.

The jovial transplanted Brit looks back with great satisfaction on his worldly lifestyle and the fortuitous experiences that led him, happily, to Charleston, West Virginia. Of all places.

“I was born in a place called Epsom in Surrey in London’s southwest suburbs. My father trained as a lawyer but graduated during the Depression and worked as a teacher for a while and eventually worked for the corporation of London. Every day, he took the early train to London and came back late at night. My mother ran a children’s clothing store.

“It was a comfortable existence, but I didn’t see much of my parents. When I was almost 9, they sent me to boarding school, a minor-league public school. I was there nine years, and it was miserable most of the time.

“I was a shy kid and sending me away was supposed to build my character. I was bullied. My reaction was to bury myself in my studies so I could get to university.

“I loved history and geography, and I was a good writer, but I had no idea what I was going to be. I went to university in Norwich. I was 17, kind of young to go. I went into European studies. It was a liberating experience for me away from the tyrannical environment of boarding school where everything was very disciplined and my talents were not recognized.

“Most liberal arts graduates went into banking or insurance or the civil service. I thought, well, I like research, writing and meeting people. I think I will be a journalist. I had no ability as a journalist, nothing. Surprisingly, I got a job. Newspapers in Britain were beginning to mix up the workforce, away from people who left school at 15 or 16, started in the press room and worked their way up.

“I’d never written a news story in my life, but I was hired by the Evening Post in Leeds with a daily circulation of just under 250,000.

“The news editor didn’t like the idea of these university guys coming into the newspaper. After a couple of months, they sent me to a course so I could learn to write for a newspaper. I was apprenticed to an older reporter in a mining town.

“He had worked his way up. He knew his way around. He could talk to miners. He could go into pubs and get stories. He had those street-smart journalism skills that this university grad from the south didn’t have. I’m going into mining towns with 50 percent unemployment. I’m out of place there. Quickly, I got this fake local accent just so I could talk to people. I spent six months with him and went back to the head office, and I kind of knew what I was doing.

“I was never very good at hard news, chasing fire engines and stuff. I was better at features and putting together a lot of information.

“Commercial television was booming in the UK. I moved to Yorkshire Television, one of the new franchises. I was the assignment editor and news producer for the nightly news program for a large geographical area. I had to adapt my writing style to TV. I was moving away from what I really wanted to do -- going out and meeting people and getting stories. I was being pushed into management. I was quite well paid, but I was bored.

“I came to the United States for the first time 1976. I had an internship at ABC News in New York to observe election coverage. I thought, hey, this is a really interesting country.

“I’d done nothing academically in my field. So I thought I would go do something in journalism and media in graduate work in the United States. I ended up at the University of Kansas for a master’s degree. I gave up a well-paid job in TV news in the UK and became a rather poor grad student in Lawrence, Kansas.

“Money has never been a big issue for me. I want to be interested in what I’m doing.

“At the end of two years, I faced a decision. Do I go back to Britain? I enjoyed teaching as a graduate student. A low-level instructor position came up at Ohio University. That’s where I spent the next 30 years, 1980 to 2010.

“I started teaching practical audio production and then mass communication survey courses and media and popular culture, politics and media and eventually more in the area of international media. I set up a new program and did my Ph.D. in American studies.

“In 1995, I was starting to get bored. Do I have to teach this course again? Go to another faculty meeting?

A colleague had been to Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia, formerly a Soviet republic. He said there was an opportunity to set up a journalism training center there.

“We were on a quarter system so I took a break. It was my first experience working in a developing country. I’ve seen poverty in Britain and the U.S., but I’d never been to a country where every day most of the people are struggling to put food on the table, a country trying to find itself after 70 years of being in the Soviet Union.

“A few months later, I had an opportunity to apply for a Fulbright fellowship in Kyrgyzstan. So I went back in the fall of ’96 and was there for a year. I was teaching and working with TV radio stations setting up there and traveling around the country. The Internet was just coming in. Life was a challenge, a struggle, but I felt I was being more useful than teaching some freshmen at Ohio University. I was making a difference there.

“I was teaching, training in environmental journalism and legal issues for journalists and things like that, consulting on curriculum and doing some research. In the Soviet Union, journalists are servants of the state. A lot of that cultural change where journalists are actually challenging the state has to start in the universities. It started me off on an international career.

“I had a series of assignments for universities, the U.S. government and international agencies including UNESCO over the years. At the same time, I worked in India and Pakistan, countries in southeast Asia. I was still at OU, skipping off for a couple of weeks or doing things in the summer.

“I retired from OU in 2010. We’d lived in southeast Ohio out in the country. I wanted to be in a more urban setting but didn’t want Washington, D.C., or Chicago or Los Angeles. We’d been coming to Charleston for many years. We do traditional dancing, contra dancing and were involved in FOOTMAD, so we knew people here.

“We thought, ‘Why not just go to Charleston?’ I always used the airport here where I could get in and out quickly, so we knew the city some. The property was reasonable. I got this place at a good price. It’s a friendly city. And if I was going to continue working for the university, it‘s an hour and a half to OU in Athens. I need office space. I have it on the third floor. I need a good Internet connection and to be close to the airport, so here I am..

“I’m kind of working for myself. I have a couple of projects for UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund. Since 2011, I’ve managed a global six-month course for UNICEF staff, Online modules and a workshop. They have about 8,000 people worldwide. We train them to use communication for development.

“A lot of stuff in development work has to do with lack of communication, people not understanding. There’s a whole field about using communication to promote positive social change, getting mothers to give birth in a hospital, getting people to build latrines and drink safe water. Technical specialists know what needs to happen, but they don’t know how to communicate it. You don’t just put up a few posters and everybody goes to the clinic.

“You have to understand the culture, the society, and do research. That’s the area we are working in. We have a course we’ve run since 2011. This year, we will be in South Africa in Johannesburg and next year we are going to India. I manage that with a team all over the world from right here.

“I’m just back from India. I also have a research project for the UNICEF office in Madagascar where we are helping university workers. I still do some freelance journalism.

“I’m happy with what I’ve done. You can never like your job all the time, but to me, work is really important, and I have to love what I’m doing most of the time. Most of my life, I’ve had interesting things to do, and it’s not over yet.

“The one thing I want to do now is do more writing. I have a book coming out through the Ohio University Press about my experiences in Central Asia. Over the years, I sent a series of emails to friends and family about my initial reaction, what was in the shops, how you deal with people, how you get around. I’ve got 20 years of these letters from different parts of the world. Many are going to be incorporated into this book.

“I’d like to do some training and keep traveling. Why hang it up now? I can’t conceive sitting on the porch drinking iced tea. I always want to be doing something. I just want to strike a balance. I don’t use the retirement word. I’ve just moved on to different things. I just have a lot more freedom now.”

Reach Sandy Wells at 304-348-5173 or sandyw@wvgazette.com.

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