Edward R. Murrow 10th Anniversary Alumni Program: Seattle Hosts Journalists from Around the World

In early November, the World Affairs Council welcomed a group of six talented journalists and media professionals to Seattle ten years after their first visit to the United States as participants in the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP). The Edward R. Murrow Program for Journalists, which celebrated its 10th Anniversary this year, is one of the Department of State’s flagship public diplomacy programs for media professionals and invites up-and-coming leaders in the field of journalism from around the world to examine journalistic practices in the United States. Now in its tenth year, the program is an innovative public-private partnership between the Department of State and seven leading U.S. schools of journalism. In addition to traditional peer-to-peer exchange components, this year’s program included a workshop on journalism in the digital era designed to address emerging strategies and technologies in modern journalism.

 photo 1

This year, Seattle hosted six Edward Murrow Program Alumni as they examined the rights and responsibilities of a free press in a democracy and participated in discussions about the current trends and challenges of political affairs coverage. In addition to Seattle, this group travelled to several other cities including Washington, D.C., Madison, Milwaukee, Tampa, and New York City.

Participants included Mr. William Soto, a journalist and news anchor with Repretel Channel 6 from Costa Rica; Mr. Ehab Abdelhamid, an author and newspaper editor from Egypt; Mr. Wojciech Rogacin, the Editor-in-Chief of Polska The Times from Poland; Mr. Hee Joon Yoo, a career broadcast journalist from Korea; Ms. Namini Wijedasa, editor and freelance journalist with The Sunday Times from Sri Lanka; and Ms. Zainah Liwanda, a freelance journalist and UNICEF communications consultant from Malawi.

As expected in the month of November, Seattle’s news reporting community was undergoing much political tension surrounding the local elections. Our visitors came to Seattle to discuss issues such as how large and small news outlets deal with election coverage, government transparency, and engaging youth in politics. The international journalists had the opportunity to meet with several media outlets, including Crosscut, Publicola, and the Seattle Times. I had the honor of accompanying this inspiring group of individuals on one busy day of meetings with these various news outlets.

Crosscut is an online publication which publishes local news on a wide array of civic subjects, featuring quality journalistic pieces from regular citizens and professionals alike. During their meeting with the head editors, the journalists learned more about the business structure and sustainability of a nonprofit news outlet. Their questions about what kind of subject matter the editors decide to include and how to manage both freelance writers and full-time staff were answered in a thoughtful and lively discussion. With Crosscut, the visitors also examined the importance of investigative journalism, the role of the press in covering the elections, and how to keep the public involved in the election process. Crosscut’s values also included allowing freelance writers the autonomous freedom to tell their stories as they see them, as well as how to proceed in the new age of journalism, as social media becomes a bigger part of news. Because most of the visitors were either freelance journalists or managed teams of writers, their meeting with Crosscut was beneficial to their understanding of how a Seattle news outlet balances freelance citizen input and that of professional reporters.photo 2

The visitors also met with Josh Feit, Founder and Chief Editor of PubliCola, where they had the opportunity to discuss the challenges associated with running a politically balanced online blog. PubliCola is dedicated to nonpartisan, original daily political reporting, and was the first online-only blog to obtain the media credentials necessary for covering the state capitol. As a freelance journalist with aspirations of moving into modern online journalism, Ms. Liwanda from Malawi initiated discussions about starting and managing a blog. Her questions led to a collaborative exchange about her business plan and how a small politics blog can successfully engage the public with breaking news, in-depth investigative pieces, and branding. For many of our visitors, the idea of a news site unapologetically touting its opinion on political affairs, offering “even-keeled” coverage while picking a side, was remarkable, and such political outspokenness highlights the values of American Individualism in the free press.

The group also had the opportunity to meet with the most widely-read daily newspaper in Washington State, and the largest Sunday circulation paper in the Northwest, The Seattle Times.  As a winner of 10 Pulitzer Prizes, The Seattle Times provided a wonderful opportunity for these international journalists to gain insight into the inner workings of a nationally-recognized newspaper. The international visitors were able to have a stimulating conversation with the Editorial Page Editor, Ms. Kate Riley, in which they discussed how to balance a comprehensive online newspaper with a printed publication and the challenges they face in reporting during election season. The editors at The Seattle Times also addressed the move towards in “21st Century Journalism,” which encompasses the current trends of engaging the public through reader comments and marketing with digital and social media.

photo 3

Following Seattle’s own election cycle in November, the international journalists were very interested in the public endorsement of political candidates by media organizations. This practice is prevalent in the United States, but in many other countries, it is unheard of—even dangerous—for a news outlet to choose sides politically. During each meeting, the visiting leaders and the representatives from PubliCola, Crosscut, and Seattle Times discussed at length the topic of political outspokenness, and whether it is considered professional or risky. The visitors were intrigued by political endorsements and the accountability of candidates; for example, how should the news organization react to a candidate’s cover-up, ineffectiveness, or a reversal in a political stance? How does a journalist choose whom to support, and how does this decision reflect on their objective stance as a reporter? This conversation underscored American perceptions on freedom of speech and how these freedoms affect accountability.

The World Affairs Council was honored to host these motivated and talented journalists for the 10th Anniversary of the Edward R. Murrow Program. The discussions these visitors were able to have with representatives from Seattle’s leading news outlets highlighted the value and impact of the cross-cultural exchange of ideas between peers. The opportunity to experience first-hand the similarities and differences between political journalism in Seattle and in the countries of the visitors was striking because I hadn’t realized how many different styles there are to reporting on politics; although these journalists came from very different political environments, their desire to share the truth with their communities was the same.

As we come to the end of 2015, the World Affairs Council will be hosting many more exciting programs, including a group of visitors from Latin America here to learn about gender equality and women’s empowerment, as well as a group from The Czech Republic and Slovakia here to discuss the civic participation of diverse minority groups.

​In 2016​,​ our ​upcoming international visitor ​programs will ​continue to ​explore the power of citizen-to-citizen exchange as a means of resolving complex global issues, and I look forward to ​the next group I can profile during their time Seattle! Stay tuned for more blog posts and twitter updates!

-Hilary Hanses, International Visitor Program Intern