Different words, one goal
Journalism students around the world work hard to inform their communities and gain practical experience in their chosen field. Editors in Ireland, Canada, South Africa, Singapore and Iraq talk to the <i>Report's</i> Katie Maloney and sha
Whether it is called communications, media studies or journalism, the theoretical education students receive when learning to be journalists is an important foundation. It is the combination of that foundation and the hands-on experience students gain at their campus media outlets that creates well-rounded graduates, who are ready for employment. But globally, the access students have to that practical experience varies greatly.
Students and educators alike contribute to the establishment and maintenance of these programs, through which student journalists gain experience and learn to be the voices of their peers and their communities.
“Most students in the United States who go to [journalism] school will find plenty of opportunities to get practical experience,” said Patrick Butler, vice president of the International Center for Journalists. “There are student newspapers, radio stations, television stations at the campus, they do internships at professional news organizations, their classes are even often about going out and doing reporting on the streets and writing stories. But in most of the countries where we work, which is mostly the ‘developing world,’ that is not the case.”
The International Center for Journalists is involved in helping to establish programs where journalism students can gain the practical experience they need in order to be hired upon graduation, Butler said. They have set up programs in the countries like Georgia and Botswana, with the ultimate goal that the schools will eventually appropriate control of the programs.
David Klatell, the chairman of International Studies and a professor of professional practice in the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University, who travels across the globe to help schools set up journalism programs, has witnessed other roadblocks that impede student journalism.
“In some countries the schools themselves actively impede students from publishing … because they’re afraid that the school will be legally responsible for what the students may publish on the Web site … They prevent students from publishing and if you can’t publish, you really can’t be a journalist,” said Klatell, who added that these circumstances are worst in countries like Iran, Egypt, Syria and Iraq.
Interviews with five student editors-in-chief from five different countries indicated that efforts to further the practical education of student journalists are very much a priority.
The five editors all expressed a common goal: To make sure their newspapers continue to educate new classes of journalists with the hands-on experience they need to succeed after graduation, and to function as the watchdog their communities have come to expect.
The “fortnightly” Trinity News at Trinity College Dublin has been serving the university community in Ireland’s capital city since 1953. The press freedom laws on the Emerald Isle have changed since the newspaper’s inception, but it is still run by committed students like Editor David Molloy.
During the past few years, along with managing the staff and content, the editors have had to navigate new rules imposed by the university.
“There are lots of rules that have been brought in the last couple of years that have major repercussions and for the paper and for its editorial staff after publication,” Molloy said.
There used to be what Molloy called a discipline loophole between the administration and the paper, which freed editors from any threat of punishment by the university for publishing something. Recently, however, that has been closed. Now, if anything printed is deemed to affect the “health, safety and welfare” of anyone, a standard Molloy described as “ridiculously broad,” there are potential disciplinary consequences from the school.
Circumstances are getting worse, Molloy said, and while the school’s new powers have yet to be exercised, he fears these are things his successors will have to worry about.
“As we’ve kind of pushed people in a certain direction, not with any agenda on our hands, but just as we’ve kind of stepped up the game a little bit in terms of publishing stuff that people don’t want published, the response from the university has been a little bit strong, a little bit heavy handed,” Molloy said.
The paper has also struggled with the university restricting access to people and information. Molloy said the university is very tight lipped and tries to find various ways to prevent student journalists from accessing information.
The paper has been asked to direct questions to the school’s Communications Office, a request the paper ignores in order to directly contact the departments from which they need information, Molloy said.
“[The university does] respond. They don’t like to be said not to comment. But what they will do is give you an incomplete answer at five past six on a Friday evening as we go to print, every single week. We’ve actually lodged a formal complaint in the past about this policy but they keep doing it,” Molloy said.
Students at Trinity don’t pay traditional tuition like American students do, but they do pay a fee that goes toward a student services pool that is divided among different student groups, like the publications committee that helps fund the paper.
Like the United States, Ireland has a Freedom of Information Act, originally passed in 1997 and amended in 2003. This grants access to matters of public record, but Molloy said the university can still make getting records difficult, whether by delaying the answers to information requests, or using what he called “advanced linguistic wordplay” to bog down facts. The university has impeded both student and professional papers from finding out what they want to know, Molloy said.
“Ireland is a very small nation, very parochial. This kind of secrecy by one institution … that we all know something but we can’t prove it so we can’t print it, this happens a lot. I’ve spoken to professional journalists who know something [but] can’t prove it and have never published the story,” he said.
Filing a Freedom of Information request can also become prohibitively expensive, Molloy said. There is a fee, plus hourly fees for the time it may take to research and assemble the requested information.
There have been advances in the legal protections of journalists in the past few years in Ireland. The Defamation Act of 2009 established the Press Council, of which Trinity News was the first student publication member. Papers that choose to become members of this council are subject to established ethical standards and to decisions made by the Press Ombudsman, who may be sought out to solve problems between the paper and other parties.
People can bring an issue to the Press Ombudsman, who will then investigate the situation and make a decision that can include making the paper print a correction for the material in question. Before this, Molloy said, papers were hesitant to print anything that might be an admission of liability.
Despite the legal similarities and the journalistic protections offered by Ireland and the United States, one cultural difference that Molloy believes affects press practices is the American fondness for filing lawsuits. “I think press freedom in the United States is actually much better than here — on paper. [But] I think that because we have a less litigious culture over here we’re better off at the end of the day. If you could combine the freedom of the press defined by the United States law and the lack of a litigious culture that we have here, I think you’d be onto a great winner.”
The student-run independent newspaper at the University of Ottawa has been independent of the school’s student union since 2005, and The Fulcrum is now enjoying its symbiotic relationship with the university, but also the benefits of its relatively new independence.
“In the past two years we’ve definitely taken more critical angles of both the university administration and the student union, but we always try to do it in a way that’s constructive. If something needs to be criticized, it needs to be criticized and we won’t hesitate to tell somebody something when we hear an issue. But I think the relationship has been pretty good, quite respectful definitely as well, so that’s really great to see,” said Fulcrum Editor-in-Chief Emma Godmere.
The editorially independent Fulcrum is still funded partially by levies from the Graduate Students’ Association and the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa, which supplement the funds garnered through advertising sales, Godmere said. The levied funds come from student fees and, along with advertising revenue, they cover the paper’s printing and distribution costs.
“In recent years before we were autonomous, when we were still owned by the student union, there were issues with the student union pulling issues off of racks because they had content that they didn’t agree with. Since we’ve been autonomous since 2005 … there have never been any serious threats or complaints from the university administration,” Godmere said.
The Supreme Court of Canada recently made it easier for professional and student journalists alike to defend themselves with a ruling in the 2009 case of Grant v. Torstar Corporation, which Godmere said is referred to in short as the “responsible journalism” standard.
Mary Agnes Welch, president of the Canadian Association of Journalists, said this newly established precedent makes it significantly easier for journalists to defend themselves when sued for libel, when before this, sometimes even proving that your information was true was not good enough. “If you can prove that what you’ve written is substantially accurate … and if you can prove that what you wrote was in the public interest, so you’re not just writing about some little neighbors fighting or something … and if you can show the judge that you’ve been essentially a good journalist, you’ve checked your facts, you’ve gotten the other side of the story, you’re not biased, you went out of your way to be fair, you weren’t misled by some source with an agenda … then you can say to the judge ‘I’ve been a responsible journalist and this is not libel.’ “
The Fulcrum is a member of a cooperative called the Canadian University Press, Godmere said. This organization includes about 70 or 80 other Canadian student newspapers and affords members things like access to media lawyers when necessary and a forum of student journalists across the nation. The Fulcrum is not the only independent student newspaper at the University of Ottawa; there is also La Rotonde, the francophone student newspaper.
“The Department of Communications has been able to set up a chance for student journalists at The Fulcrum and La Rotonde to meet with the university president, Allan Rock, several times a year,” Godmere said. “That’s been helpful in giving us access to the administration. Because I know a lot of other student newspapers just don’t have access at all to their administration. But we’ve never had a problem, for the most part, in getting in touch with top administrators or even the president himself.”
Though the paper covers local crime, being located in the larger community of the nation’s capital, the Fulcrum can sometime have tough competition in the professional papers.
“It’s definitely hard in Ottawa because we’re in the nation’s capital. There are several times when we want to cover national affairs ourselves, especially when things matter to students, and when you’re in that situation, when you’re dealing with Ottawa bureau journalists from across the country,” Godmere said.
There are also other media laws in Canada that limit not only the information journalists can get, but also what can be published. Limitations on hate speech, Welch said, begin when content crosses the line from offensive to potentially inciting crime or violence against a group of people.
The general practices of collecting information are different as well, said Welch, who has worked as a journalist in the United States and Canada. Even if there were an accident and a reporter had the victim’s name and called the hospital to ask his or her condition, Welch said that information would not regularly be given. “The balance is just tilted much more in favor of people’s privacy,” Welch said.
The political landscape in South Africa has changed dramatically since most undergraduate students at the University of Cape Town were born. With the end of apartheid came a new political landscape, and with that came new media freedoms. R’my Ngamije, editor-in-chief of Varsity Newspaper at UCT, said some issues still arise between journalists and those who do not understand the extent of freedom of speech in South Africa, but the Varsity staff continues to train and educate young journalists in those freedoms.
“UCT campaigned strongly for academic independence way back in the ’80s during the apartheid era. And because of that, they’ve sort of filtered it down to every UCT student. So generally, the university cannot interfere or stop us from doing something that we want to do. We’re completely independent. We’re independent, but ultimately protected by [the university].”
Ngamije said while the paper is editorially independent, as a student organization the school still offers it some protections.
“We regulate our own content, our own internal processes completely and separately from the University of Cape Town. But because we are a society from UCT, if anything drastic ever happens, the university does protect our paper. They’re like the protector of last resort,” Ngamije said.
The paper does receive an annual “allowance” from the university, but the paper is financially sound in large part due to its advertising revenue.
“We have a very strong advertising department and people are always keen to advertise in our paper, so we’re financially stable,” Ngamije said.
Although the university has no authority over editorial content, Ngamije said, they sometimes request a story be postponed and discussed if, for example, there were a story about dissatisfaction with the school chancellor or vice chancellor or if there were coverage of some sort of scandal.
“We try and follow all journalistic procedures … but if, for example, we go to print with a groundbreaking story involving university management and they were not available for comment they can always ask us to postpone the article. But ultimately the decision lies with us,” Ngamije said. “… The university has no recourse against us and we do follow through with the article later. But we are completely independent. They can’t do anything to us.”
Varsity has been the official school newspaper of the University of Cape Town since 1942 and has seen significant national changes since then, and the paper is still committed to encouraging large and small-scale change.
“Varsity Newspaper was very active during the apartheid years, campaigned strongly for academic freedom and is still campaigning strongly now for media freedom,” Ngamije said. “But now [there is a shift] toward more social responsiveness and Varsity Newspaper is trying to become one of the student newspapers in South Africa and Africa that champions social responsiveness within the realm of racism, HIV/AIDS, poverty or education, climate change, all of those.”
A recent occurrence at UCT sparked Varsity coverage and a discussion of the freedom of speech. When the South African president’s convoy was driving by the campus, a student jogging on the same road was accused of giving the middle finger as the motorcade passed, Ngamije said.
A member of the convoy then took the student to the police station where the student, who said the action in question was just a wave, not a middle finger, was interviewed and questioned, Ngamije said.
“The biggest story we covered [from that] was … the freedom of speech in South Africa and also generally what people can and cannot do, abuse of constitutional rights of freedom to speech,” he said.
There is “generally complete freedom of speech,” Ngamije said, and journalists often have a better grasp than others on the freedom to speak and exchange information.
“It’s hard telling the truth, but it’s even harder hearing it,” Ngamije said.
The student newspaper at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) faces challenges not only catering to the large, multicultural student body at the Singaporean university, but also writing under a policy of prior review. The Nanyang Chronicle is written mainly in English, with a section in Chinese, and has advisers for each section.“Singapore is pretty multicultural. [We have] four different main languages in … English, Malay, Chinese and Tamil,” said Nanyang Chronicle Chief Editor Shereen Naaz Charles. “Because NTU started off as a Chinese University … we pay a little homage to our ancestry at the university, so we have the Chinese sections in our paper because of that.”
The Chronicle’s English-speaking adviser reviews all English language content in the paper before it goes to print, and this Chinese-speaking adviser reviews that section, Charles said.
“Generally, he will tell you whether or not certain ideas work, how they work [or] how they don’t work,” Charles said.
When the adviser deems information to be too sensitive or controversial, she said, he or she either brings the story back to the editors with suggestions on how to remove controversial material, or tells them the content should be taken to the dean for vetting before publication. The dean, Charles said, is the person with whom final editorial discretion rests.
“If we have certain problematic stories, or stories that are potentially sensitive … these stories have to go to vetting by the dean of the school before we can put it out to print,” Charles said.
As a student journalist, trying to gather sources can be difficult, Charles said, since people are less inclined to speak with you when it does little for their public image to be in the campus paper. Also, Charles said, people are much more likely to speak with you about something positive than something negative. She added that when she does work for other news organizations, she does not mention to sources that she is still in school.
“When I work with these organizations and set up interviews, I don’t even mention that I am a student and they are very willing to step forth and agree to an interview with me, even if it’s for the smallest article, because they know that the publication that it will be published in is…for the general public,” Charles said.
When reporters need information from the school, the adviser can usually help point them in the direction of the right people, Charles said. She added that there is a good relationship between the Chronicle and the university since the relevant people from the school review information before it is printed, ensuring it isn’t “condescending in any way.”
Regardless of the prior review of content, Charles said the paper tries to publish relevant and not just positive stories.
“I think we also try our best to make sure that we’re not just being a very positive paper all the time. There are instances where you have to tell the truth, and you do, but you do it in such a way that you don’t offend anybody,” she said.
The paper, which is funded by the school and advertising revenue, has some practices that can make it easier to get people to speak on the record for pieces in the opinion section.
“For opinion pieces… we don’t have to name who we are speaking with … because some people tend to be very shy with their opinion, and they don’t really want to say what’s on their minds, unless you can guarantee them some sort of anonymity,” Charles said.
She said there is a noticeable difference in the strength of opinions expressed in interviews when reporters promise their subjects that their names will not be included with their comments.
Although local crime is not covered unless there is an angle that would affect students, Charles said local police would not release that type of information anyway.
When Charles was the opinion editor, a politician from an opposition party came to campus, causing quite a stir by handing out pamphlets and eventually being escorted from campus. The school decided the story was too sensitive to be printed, which the then editor-in-chief was very upset by and protested, Charles said.
“That was really disappointing to a lot of us because we felt that …‘it’s the truth, we would like to print it,’ but at the end of the day, the final say does come from the people up above,” she said.
In the less than three-year existence of the American University of Iraq-Sulaimani, students have tried three times before to establish a newspaper, before finally successfully establishing the AUI-S Voice this year.
For this first year of the paper’s existence, Editor-in-Chief Dana Jaff and the four other editors were selected by the adviser, Jackie Spinner, based on experience, interest and “cultural diversity on campus,” Jaff said. But after this year, the staff of the Voice will select its own editors and the editor-in-chief.
“All of the reporters, columnists, photographers and editors are in a learning process. Many mistakes are expected in the beginning. Sometimes they don’t know how the policy works or they ignore the important technical details of their work,” Jaff said.
Members of the currently 45-person staff all had to sign the Voice’s handbook, containing the paper’s policies. The staff continues to grow, he said, as new people apply every week.
Spinner, an American who used to work for The Washington Post, is also the director of media relations for the university. The adviser does review content before it is printed, Jaff said, since few staff members have much journalism experience and the paper is published in English, which is a second language for most students. This review is given to the adviser voluntarily, Jaff said.
He added that an agreement between he and Spinner limited her “editorial power” to potentially controversial subjects, and thus far there has been no instance where she suggested not publishing an article.
“Some of the faculty [members] like to have that editorial power, but we — the editors — and Jackie have refused [that] strongly … The idea of having an adviser is to prevent any other people from the faculty and staff … from intervening in the work,” Jaff said.
One topic the Voice avoids covering is politics, Jaff said. The staff tries to keep the coverage local and focus on covering the campus.
“We are trying to avoid the local politics. Everything here is mixed with partisan politics in a way or another, so one of my conditions to work with the newspaper was to avoid Iraqi and Kurdish politics and politicians,” Jaff said.
Jaff said that although the fledgling paper does not cover politics, the staff tries to cover most topics germane to the university, and editors hope to continue to grow their coverage in helpful, relevant ways.
“AUI-S itself is a new experience in the region. We try to be fair and logical in our critiques. We have caused some changes and we are looking forward to being more influential, but we are aware of the difficulties facing AUI-S as whole, so our aim is not to publish everything controversial but everything beneficial,” he said
The editorial board, and ultimately the editor-in-chief with the guidance of the adviser, is responsible for what is printed in the paper. Jaff said the paper has printed and will continue to print critical articles when fitting. “I personally encourage our folks to write about whatever they see negative and wrong on campus. It is my dream to make the Voice a real voice of the students,” Jaff said.
The critical articles the paper has written in its short existence have covered problems from the campus’ ban of Facebook, to the social implications of differences between Eastern and Western values on campus. Stories have also criticized the university’s criteria students must meet to study abroad and the school’s belated decision to consider the Iraqi Election Day, which was held on March 7, a holiday, Jaff said. The school eventually did declare March 7 and 8 holidays, but it was decided too late for many students to go back to their hometowns to vote, he said.The American University of Iraq-Sulaimani is in a region of Iraq safe from the ongoing Iraq War, Jaff said.
“Our university is located in Sulaimani, in the Kurdistan region in the North, which is safe and has no security problems. So I can say that we are fine and the military situation in the other parts of Iraq has not affected us,” Jaff said.
Though not directly affected by violence in other parts of the country, Jaff and the newspaper’s staff feel the impact of the conflict.
“Although we are in a safe part of Iraq, we do feel the affect of the violence in Iraq. We see our friends from Baghdad and the other parts, who really have a hard time in every visit to their hometowns … I frankly say that this is work, though small, is a genuine effort to start a professional journalism in Iraq, which can benefit the country in the future,” he said.
Editor’s note: As this magazine went to print, Dana Jaff stepped down from his position as Editor-in-Chief of the AUI-S Voice.
The outlook for journalism is changing globally, not just in Iraq, and student journalists are playing an influential role in the transformation. Journalism programs have evolved since many of today’s professors were in school, since technologically savvy students now drive so much of the innovation in the industry, Patrick Butler said.
“Kids who are going to journalism school today are the ones who are going to be inventing the media systems that we are going to have in the future. It’s changing so rapidly that they have to learn how to be entrepreneurs and that includes social networking,” Butler said. “They have to learn how we’re going to do quality journalism at a time when it’s all more about citizen journalism and social networking [and] all about low cost … The young students of today are going to have to find a way to make sure that we’re getting quality in-depth and investigative reporting while still incorporating the trends of citizen journalism and multimedia.”
In countries where censorship is an issue, access to the Internet is also exposing students to the methods of news coverage outside their countries. David Klatell said journalists often learn to self-censor when they are raised and taught in an environment where it is known, long before pen is put to paper, what information will and will not be tolerated in the media. The Internet is breaking this dam of information and also allowing students to report more anonymously or under pseudonyms, Klatell said.
“The good news is students all around the world, one way or another, get on the Web and get on social networking sites. So they now know there are other ways to do it. They’re not living in a cocoon anymore,” Klatell said.
In the future, what student journalists around the globe need from their schools, Klatell said, is for these journalistic practices to be recognized and implemented in curricula, “rather than simply pretend they don’t exist, or tolerate them in ignorance, or … force honest journalism into dark corners.”
By Katie Maloney, SPLC staff writer
reports, Spring 2010