I just spent a good chunk of the last two months with 10 incredible young journalists from the World Press Institute program, based at the University of St. Thomas for four weeks and on the road for another four. I have the pleasure of doing some work with the group as part-time program director under Executive Director David McDonald.
The fellows just left the Twin Cities returning to their homes in Argentina, Australia, Brazil, China, Egypt, Finland, India, Romania, Pakistan and Uganda. It was sad to see them go, knowing that it may be many years before I see them or they see each other again.
But it was an amazing experience not only for the print, television and internet journalists, but also for those of us who had the opportunity to interact with them and to watch them interact with American journalism and culture. The experience left me feeling optimistic about the future of international journalism and about American relationships with other countries.
It’s true that American foreign policy has many critics around the world, much of the criticism justifiable. But on a personal level, when people from outside our borders meet individual Americans in their daily lives and work, they more often than not feel welcomed. I’ll let the journalists explain.
“I learned as much in social events as I did in the seminars” about America, said one.
“Your country is not the technology or the business or the huge army, but the people,” said another.
“I will remember the hospitality and love,” said yet another.
Another journalist, who prided herself on her toughness, said she cried twice during her time here: once singing “We Shall Overcome” with Garrison Keillor
at the state fair and the other at a 9-11 ceremony at the state Capitol in Boston.
One journalist said “you are so much more diverse and more complicated” a people than “you are given credit for.”
The journalists traveled from Ely, Minnesota, to Muscatine, Iowa, to California, Boston, New York, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Miami and Chicago. They met with policy makers, politicians, pundits and pollsters. And they visited newsrooms at The New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, Boston Globe, Univision, the Spanish-language network, as well as internet newsrooms like Global Post in Boston and Bay News in San Francisco. They visited international businesses. They went canoeing in the Boundary Waters, took a Duck Boat tour in Boston and visited the 9-11 Memorial in lower Manhattan.
Some visits were more interesting than others, but they always kept up their curiosity, asking intelligent and incisive questions. Most spoke English as a second or third language. Imagine most Americans trying to repeat this experience in one of their countries and you realize how hard they had to work. They said they were grateful for the exposure to so many people and places.
They will take back what they learned as American journalism tries to cope with significant changes in the way it does business. They were impressed by the innovations they saw here and hope to replicate some of them in their own newsrooms and countries.
They said the connections and friendships they made in America and with each other will last a lifetime. One journalist said “it was like traveling to the other nine nations” on one trip.
And speaking to her colleagues and to the Americans she met in Minnesota and along the trail, another journalist said, “I will keep you here (pointing to her head) and here (pointing to her heart).”
For my part, I will miss them all deeply. But having met these 10 vibrant young journalists and having seen them live in America for two months, I have the feeling that they will make a difference in journalism in their countries in the years ahead. And I also know that what they learned about us as a people will make a difference in our relations with the rest of the world.
I wish them the very best and I thank them for the opportunity to spend time with them and share their experiences.
You can read more about the journalists, their reactions and thoughts at: