“Courses that are designed to inspire journalists or encourage creative approaches to the craft are more likely to be exercises in frustration if, at the end of the training, they return to underresourced newsrooms running on skeleton budgets,” writes Sue Valentine, who directs The Media Programme at the Open Society Foundation in Cape Town, South Africa. With her cautionary words, Nieman Reports opens its series of stories that portray the experiences of many Nieman Fellows (and a few others) who have trained journalists in countries other than their own. These journalists also convey what they’ve learned in doing this.
Jacques A. Rivard, recently retired from reporting for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, tells what it was like to work with radio reporters in Rwanda in the months before that nation’s genocidal attacks began. In trying to teach about press freedom, his students told him that if any of them “reacted against the government’s methods of control, they feared for their lives.” In Iraq, U.S. journalists who fear for their safety if they venture out of protective zones train Iraqi translators in how to act as reporters, according to Patrick J. McDonnell, the Los Angeles Times bureau chief in Baghdad. In the training, McDonnell writes, “The real challenges are developing journalistic intuition, learning to use initiative to follow a story, asking the right questions, capturing the telling details, and identifying issues that attract Western readers.”
When Rui Araujo, a freelance journalist based in Lisbon, Portugal, traveled to Cape Verde to train reporters at the country’s only television station, he found that “most of the television reporters did not know even the basic principles of the trade. Nor were these local reporters capable of doing what we’d think of as independent reporting,” due to government pressures on its state-owned media. Lucinda Fleeson, who has authored several international journalism training manuals, worked with 10 Armenian journalists—both in the United States and in their country—in an intensive program that taught the skills of investigative reporting. “As trainers,” she writes, “we coach from the sidelines: It is the reporters and their editors who must decide whether or not to put their organization behind a controversial story. After all, it is they who could be fired or … be visited in their offices by heavy-set bodyguards of criminal kingpins.”
John Bare, who is vice president for strategic planning and evaluation at the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, provides an overview of advice and guidance to international trainers about how to constructively think about measuring success and respond to fluctuating circumstances. Ragip Duran, a foreign correspondent in Turkey, has been involved in multinational journalism training groups. While such seminars remind him of “the universally shared principles and rules of traditional journalism,” he writes that “a more futile exercise is to expect that one can impose a certain style of journalism on those who work in a country where the techniques and skills cannot be implemented.” Jerome Aumente, an emeritus professor at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, has been involved in many training sessions in former Eastern-bloc countries and other emerging democracies: “What is taught must be tailored to the external circumstances involved with fragile emergent economies and transitional democracies,” he advises.
Despite bureaucratic obstacles and challenges that she faced at Slovenia’s national radio and television network, Valerie Hyman, who is a news and management consultant to television and radio stations, emerged from her three-week training experience believing that “strengthening their television journalism will strengthen their democracy.” Teaching at the Caucasus School of Journalism and Media Management in Tbilisi, Georgia gave Karl Idsvoog, who teaches journalism at Kent State University, a firsthand awareness of the positive effects of offering “compressed and intensive sessions” on specific topics and skills. The students, he writes, learned “by immersing themselves in the doing of it.” In the years before the Ukraine’s recent Orange Revolution, Peggy Simpson, who is a freelance reporter in Washington, D.C., went there to train young journalists. “We suspected that if they’d talk with people who were struggling under the policies of their government, then what they wrote and broadcast would be different,” she writes. When Boston Globe reporter Kevin Cullen learned about the reality of reporters’ lives in Poland, his thinking changed: “After listening to the real-life stories of real-life Polish journalists, I wasn’t so dogmatic or judgmental.” Watson Sims, a scholar in communications with The George H. Gallup International Institute, describes his experience in a Polish village when he was asked to negotiate a standoff between the mayor and the town’s independent newspaper editor. Though resolution wasn’t reached, Sims left Ropczycka with the sense that “press freedom in Ropczycka seemed off to a good start.”
Since moving to Canada as an Indian-born immigrant—with the expectation of finding a job as the foreign editor at a national newspaper—George Abraham has experienced a lot of rejection and has tried to understand why. “Newsroom managers have become more insular and provincial even as globalization and immigration transform the world beyond their ramparts,” Abraham writes. “Skills and training acquired in one country appear irrelevant in another ….” Tim Giago, who is president of the Native American Journalists Foundation, Inc., uses his experience as editor of the Lakota Times to demonstrate the ways in which cultural traditions of sovereign Indian nations (inside U.S. borders) affect how newsrooms function and journalists report their stories, and why training helps.
Daniel Ulanovsky Sack, who directs the Center for Advanced Studies in Narrative Journalism in Buenos Aires, Argentina, uses online educational sessions to train Spanish-speaking journalists from many countries in how to construct the context in which to tell a news story. “Even though facts might be objective,” he writes, “reality is a highly subjective web of those facts.” Doug Mitchell, who manages National Public Radio’s (NPR) internal and external training of young journalists, went to a university in Chile to teach radio journalism, and he describes how aspects of this experience informed NPR’s approach in establishing its “next generation radio” training in the United States.
Michele McLellan, who directs Tomorrow’s Workforce, went to Cambodia to work with journalists from several Southeast Asian nations and learned to “balance my strong sense of ethical practice with a desire to avoid preaching an ‘American way’ in such a different journalism environment.” After 40 years experience in editing and publishing newspapers in Canada, Ralph Hancox traveled to Jakarta, Indonesia to work with employees at an independent publishing house run by a journalist and editor who had been jailed several times for his “liberal advocacies.” He details strategies he proposed.