International Journalism Students Post Stories

UA News Services
Aug. 3, 2004

Nine students at the University of Arizona spent the spring 2004 semester writing about economic and environmental issues in Chile. Their class was the initial offering of the UA's new program in international journalism, and their stories and photographs appear in a series this week in the Tucson Citizen.

The program is a collaboration between the journalism and Near Eastern studies departments and the centers for Latin American Studies and Middle Eastern Studies.

It also is the first time a UA journalism class has traveled to and worked in another country. International journalism is a hot career option for many young people who want to see and tell the stories of other parts of the world, said Jacqueline Sharkey, head of the UA journalism department.

"The events of the last several years show clearly why we need journalists who have a knowledge of the politics, history and cultures of the countries they are writing about. Such journalists are crucial for providing the American people with the independent, comprehensive information they need to make informed judgments about policy and policy makers," Sharkey said.

Anne Betteridge, director of the UA Center for Middle Eastern Studies, said everyone has "grand, but realistic, ambitions" for the program.

"Solid preparation in the history, culture and languages of the regions from which they report is all too rare among American journalists who work outside the US. It is enormously important to have a pool of journalists well equipped to cover international news; the UA can play a key role in developing that essential group of professionals," Betteridge said.

William Beezley, the interim director of the Center for Latin American Studies, said the program has generated so much interest that "it's the first thing people want to know about when I go to meetings."

"We think this is the perfect kind of program for a national resource center like Latin American Studies or the Center for Middle Eastern Studies. Credit goes to Jacqueline (Sharkey), who brings inspiration and international experience," Beezley said.

The centers for Latin American Studies and Middle Eastern Studies at the UA are among a handful of academic units nationwide that are funded by Title VI grants from the U.S. Department of Education.

Funding for the first three years of the program has come primarily from grants garnered by Latin American Studies and Middle Eastern Studies. The journalism department and the UA Institute for the Study of Planet Earth also have provided funding.

Two journalists were brought in to work with the program. Veteran reporter Alan Weisman organized the class trip to Chile. Weisman has written several books on Latin America and articles for The New York Times Magazine, Harper's and others, and has helped produce documentaries and reports for National Public Radio.

Maggy Zanger, a former editor of Middle East Reports who now trains Iraqui journalists at the Institute for War and Peace Reporting in Baghdad, will join the program in August and divide her time between Tucson and Iraq over the next three years. Zanger is a former publications coordinator for the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies at Georgetown University and a former faculty member at the American University in Cairo.

Weisman said he picked Chile so students could see the social and environmental impact of the North American Free Trade Agreement on Chileans. Students wrote stories about industries such as copper and salmon, and their effects both on that country and the United States, including Arizona.

"I like the idea of training journalists in covering international situations. Most students are not culturally prepared for working in other countries," said Weisman.

The Tucson Citizen assigned editor Brad Poole to work with the class and accompany the students and Weisman to Chile.

"I went to speak to the class and offered to come every week. The next thing I knew I was going to Chile," Poole said.

"It was hard for me during the course of this semester to remember that I was dealing with students and not professional journalists. They were thorough, eager and knowledgeable. With very little prompting or guidance they found ways to make the stories engaging for Tucson readers," he said.

"For instance, the salmon farming industry in Chile, is not easy even for seasoned journalists. These students did it well," he said.

Law student Jay Sagar said the class was a chance to see how law and policy work once they are applied to real people. Sagar is completing a dual program with a master's in Latin American studies along with a law degree. He has written a student note for the Arizona Journal of International and Comparative Law about the U.S.-Chile Free Trade Agreement that will be published in the fall.

"I ... was excited to get a chance to actually go to Chile and interview people about how they felt about the agreement, as opposed to sifting through the provisions and reading praise from the government and business communities," he said.

Sagar's said his law journal article focuses on the labor and environment sections of the agreement. The story for Weisman's class, written with Erika Kororwin, was on labor and environmental standards in Chile's fruit industry.

"It was interesting to interview fruit exporters, seasonal fruit workers, and doctors handling pesticide cases, and to ask questions that gave more context to what I had learned about the labor and environmental aspects of the free trade agreement," Sagar said.

Isabel Sep


Resources for the media

Jacqueline Sharkey
UA journalism professor and head
William Beezley
UA history professor and interim director of Latin American Studies
Anne Betteridge
UA professor and director of Middle Eastern Studies