Foreign journalists say they have a better appreciation of American life and the challenges United States media face following a weeklong visit to the Twin Cities.
The School of Journalism and Mass Communication played host to 21 journalists from East Asia and the Pacific region from Oct. 28 through Nov. 3. The visit was part of the fifth annual Edward R. Murrow Program for Journalists, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, The Aspen Institute and 10 journalism schools including the SJMC.
The 23-day program, which also took the group to Washington, D.C., and Pensacola, Fla., helps foreign journalists examine the rights and responsibilities of a free press in a democracy. International participants are nominated by the U.S. embassies in their home countries. The Murrow program is part of the State Department's International Visitor Leadership Program, which has a goal of increasing understanding between people of the United States and other countries.
During their stay, fellows got to take part in a discussion of topics including trade, public safety and public health, and toured Twin Cities Public Television and the Pioneer Press in St. Paul. Among the participants' favorite professional components were visiting newsrooms and a discussion with SJMC Professor Heather LaMarre on political communication. The participants also observed activities at the polls on Election Day and visited then gubernatorial candidate Mark Dayton's campaign headquarters.
"SJMC organized a series of productive workshops, round table discussions and site visits that explored the craft of journalism," says Charlie Kellett, program officer for the State Department's Office of International Visitors. Observing local media institutions and learning standards and operational practices helped participants understand the rights and responsibilities of a free press in a democracy.
Fellows expressed feelings of surprise and relief to see American journalists struggle with many of the same hurdles they face, including changing media landscapes and battles to make news industries profitable.
"It was also comforting to know during our visits to the various media institutions and briefings with media experts that we share the same challenges and solutions," says Claude Vitug, head of news administration and futures at ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corp. in the Philippines. By interacting and learning from one another, perhaps journalists throughout the world can find new, viable business models.
SJMC Professor Chris Ison addresses the 21 participants of the Edward R. Murrow Program for Journalists Oct. 29 during a round table discussion at the McNamara Alumni Center.
For Sera Janine, chief of staff at the Fiji Sun, the chance to experience life in the United States helped dispel views widely held in her homeland about what American life is like.
Janine recalls standing on the corner of Washington Avenue and Harvard Street Southeast during Halloween, marveling at the sight of people walking down the street in costumes. Just then, a man walked up to her.
"It was only to ask if I needed help with getting somewhere," Janine says. "That was a real surprise for me as I had been told prior to my trip that Americans live a very fast-paced life and do not worry about other people."
While the program gives the university and the SJMC a chance to shine, the program
benefits the university community, too.
"The Murrow Program offers an opportunity for us to highlight the University of Minnesota and the School of Journalism and Mass Communication," says Albert Tims, director of the SJMC. "The president of the university is enthusiastic about our participation in this program and the value of working with other communicators from around the world."
The group also visited Stillwater; took in a Minnesota Wild hockey game; attended a reception hosted by the SJMC, Minnesota International Center and the Asian American Journalists Association; and sat in on a class led by Professor Larry Jacobs at the university's Humphrey School of Public Affairs.
Janine says her only regret was not seeing snow during her visit. Three weeks later as she watched the news, she was shocked to see pictures of the Mall of America in a story about blizzards plaguing the Upper Midwest.
"My short stay in Minnesota was just that: too short," Janine says, adding she plans to return and hopes to visit some of the people she befriended during her stay.