By Ami Berger
The SJMC partners with the U.S. State Department on a new program to promote international understanding among journalists.
The nation of Senegal, on the western coast of Africa, doesn't often make the news here in the United States. In fact, most Americans probably couldn't find the country, bordered by Mauritania, Mali, Guinea, and Guinea-Bissau, on a map.
But Courani Diarra, a journalist with Senegal's Radio Futurs Media, is helping to change that. Diarra is one of twelve journalists from ten African countries who visited the School of Journalism and Mass Communication April 5-12, 2006 as part of the Edward R. Murrow program, a new partnership between the U.S. State Department and the SJMC.
The Murrow program, which debuted this year, is an innovative public-private partnership between the Department of State and seven leading U.S. schools of journalism. The program brought 130 journalists from independent media outlets around the world to the United States to examine the practice of American journalism and interact with professional journalists and experts in the field. The twelve journalists visitng the SJMC hailed from Burkina Faso, the Cape Verde Islands, Chad, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali, Mauritius, Mauritania, Niger, and Senegal, and all hold mid- to upper-level positions in radio, print, and broadcast news organizations in their home countries.
Ms. Diarra, from Senegal, accepted the State Department's invitation to participate in the program for a number of reasons. "I wanted to see the United States and learn about American culture," she says, "and I also wanted the chance to network with my counterparts in the media from other African countries." Diarra was also very much interested in seeing the American free press at work: "The perception in Africa is that the American press enjoys tremendous freedom and resources," she says, "and the U.S. also has a good reputation for investigative reporting. I am glad to have the chance to learn more about these ideas."
Those ideas were part of the specialized curriculum designed for the visitors by the SJMC's Minnesota Journalism Center and several partner organizations, including the World Press Institute and the Minnesota International Center. Throughout their week-long stay, the group attended seminars on investigative and in-depth reporting methods, subject reporting, new media and Internet broadcasting, economics of the press, and the role of the press in a democracy. The group spent time observing professional journalists at the Star Tribune, KFAI radio, KSTP-AM radio, Twin Cities Public Television, and Minnesota Public Radio, and also met with U.S. Representative Betty McCollum, who serves on the Africa subcommittee of the House's International Relations Committee.
Albert Tims, the director of the SJMC, is pleased that the School was one of the seven higher education institutions selected by the State Department to participate in the Murrow program. "The Murrow Program was a marvelous opportunity for us to contribute to an international discussion about press freedoms and responsibilities in a changing world," says Tims, who traveled to Washington D.C. in December of 2005 to meet with Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and attend the official announcement of the Murrow program. "We were thrilled to help launch this exciting new program and to exchange ideas with our visitors about how we can help promote vigorous and responsible journalism around the world," Tims says.
The journalists themselves enjoyed that exchange of ideas as well. "Journalistic principles themselves are universal," Ms. Diarra says, "and what we are taught is very much the same as what journalists are taught here in America. The difference is in the way that journalists practice their craft. I was very interested to compare our practices with American practices and take that new knowledge home with me."