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Global Journalist covers the world

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  • Story by Nancy Moen
  • Photos by Shane Epping
  • Published: June 25, 2012
Global Journalist. Travis McMillen, Director.

Director Travis McMillen mans the control room for the Global Journalist radio show. The half-hour weekly panel discussion of international news, produced by MU students, airs Thursdays on KBIA 91.3 FM, MU's NPR affiliate station.

Missouri School of Journalism students seeking international work experience find it here through Global Journalist.

In a multimedia format, MU’s students use the GJ website and weekly radio show to report on events that affect freedom of the press. The students seek stories about journalism and dangers to its practitioners in all corners of the world.

“This is the place students get to talk to a global audience,” says Amy McCombs, executive editor of Global Journalist and Lee Hills Chair in Free Press Studies.

The students work across platforms, coordinating the radio show and website. They produce the radio show and create content for the online format. They learn how to layer a presentation with informational graphics, timelines, photo stories and other media.

What they take from the experience is a new understanding of international journalism, unequaled as a learning opportunity.

Student producer Sraavani Pere, a master’s student, recently talked with a photographer and multimedia reporter who’s been covering the impending war in Sudan. In a person-to-person, international phone call, photographer Pete Muller warned the GJ team not to reveal his location in the conflict zone, which would put his life at risk.

It was a memorable encounter.

Stories of the storytellers

The role of Global Journalist is to spotlight issues, so the content is timely. Students see multiple sides of issues ranging from the Eurozone economic crisis to the revolutions in the Middle East.

What the students discover — reports of government censorship, state takeovers of media and the intimidation, unlawful imprisonment and killing of reporters — doesn’t always make headlines in American media. The students find stories that show what a dangerous and deadly occupation journalism is in many parts of the world. 

Directed by faculty and staff, the students seek working journalists internationally to write the articles or participate in the weekly radio show on KBIA-FM, hosted by adjunct instructor David Reed.

“It’s one thing for students to read about the growing conflict between Iran and Israel and perhaps write a paper about it. It’s quite another to do in-depth research and then see fruits of their labor — an Iranian radio reporter and blogger and a prominent Israeli journalist giving their passionate, insightful and conflicting points of view on the GJ program,” Reed says.   

Every class has a world beat, assigned trouble spots to watch, and the students' searches produce the weekly free press watches used at the end of each broadcast and on the website. 

“Students quickly learn the importance of their work as they report on journalists who are risking their lives to bring important stories to world audiences,” McCombs says.

Among the information students found recently are stories of reporters targeted in Nigeria; censorship of journalists in Uzbekistan; the silencing of three Sudanese newspapers; a media network director gunned down at his home in Mogadishu; and Portugal’s government shutting down the country’s main public radio station.

Students’ perspective

Telling a story on Global Journalist can be challenging. Managing editor Patricia Smith sees how the assignments bring impressive results while helping to shape the students’ critical-thinking skills. 

“We had a story before the New York Times,” she says.

Students must double verify information they use by finding it in two places — through the media in the country and through a watchdog organization — and often do reporting of their own. And because the stories are international, sometimes translators are essential. 

The difficult standards didn’t deter alumnus Jordan Stockdale, who says the work improved his skills and affirmed his interest in international affairs. “The best thing about the class is that you learn about international issues while you publish and edit real news,” he says.

Stockdale interviewed Phil Balboni, a co-founder of GlobalPost, and spoke with famed journalist Juan Almendarez about a coup d’état in Honduras.

Senior journalism major Cecilia Garza, who aspires to do magazine writing, possibly as a correspondent, says Global Journalist gives each student the opportunity to become a critical piece in the production of the radio show and website.

“What the website is or becomes relies heavily on what innovation the staffers bring to the table,” she says.

One of Garza’s memorable assignments was an interview with two photographers who were in New York for the 10th anniversary of 9/11. Those interviews became an online question-and-answer account with an audio slideshow of the photographers’ shots and interviews.

At Global Journalist, neophyte reporters learn that working with well-known sources doesn’t have to be intimidating. Garza says contacting “big names” from abroad or in the U.S., no longer scares her: “Who says I'm not worthy of their time?”

Students use the experience as a springboard to international jobs. Her GJ experience led alumna Emily Coppel to pursue an international career. Reporting from southern Africa, she covered violent xenophobic attacks targeting Zimbabweans, Malawians and Nigerians blamed for stealing South African jobs.

Why it’s important

The journalism school inherited Global Journalist the magazine — previously called IPI Report and then IPI Global Journalist — at the International Press Institute world congress in 1998 and produced the magazine until funding ran out in 2010. 

McCombs then moved the concept to a multiple-platform format, including Facebook and mobile devices. She continues to seek a strategy for a print piece. The magazine, which was distributed in 140 countries, had been used as a textbook in some parts of the world, so she would like to resume publication.

“Press rights is the canary in the mine to alert you to global human rights violations or social issues. The first thing repressive governments do is shut down journalists,” McCombs says.

McCombs knows that reporting what happens to journalists helps explain their role.  After GJ ran a story on Uzbekistan’s repressive government, a watchdog organization asked to link to the website. Because of a story on Cuba, a reporter from the watchdog group Committee to Protect Journalists thanked GJ for giving exposure to his work.

Preston: “A strength to treasure”

Last fall, GJ received an email from Syria criticizing GJ coverage of the repression of information flow there.

“It was common knowledge that working journalists had been asked to leave. The email was voicing the government’s position. I’d say we give a balanced view,” McCombs says.

And repressive activities are not necessarily confined to international trouble spots.

Global Journalist also examines press infringement in the U.S. This year topics have included coverage of Occupy protests; court cases against people who leak information about the government; and sealed Supreme Court records. 

British investigative journalist Peter Preston, editor of The Guardian 1975-95, says Global Journalist fulfills a “vital role in pushing at the boundaries of censorship and repression.” He calls GJ “a strength to treasure” at a time when editorial resources are being slashed.

Preston says GJ is particularly effective in helping ideas grow and pass from forum to forum: “It was a good deed in a particularly bad world — and all the better for harnessing the enthusiasm and idealism of a young student production team.” 

Global Journalist Radio airs on KBIA, 91.3 FM, the public radio station of the University of Missouri. It airs at 6:30 p.m. and streams live at 9 a.m. Thursdays. 

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Last updated: June 25, 2012